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Man says he shot police officer in self-defense

Clairton suspect fired 7 times at close range

Friday, October 04, 2002

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Wiping away occasional tears, former Clairton police officer John Dunlap heard the testimony of a Clairton man who is accused of trying to kill him nearly two years ago.

Benjamin C. Johnson faces attempted homicide and at least a dozen other charges in the Oct. 19, 2000, shooting.

Johnson, 40, fired seven times at Dunlap from relatively close range. But he swore yesterday that he was not trying to kill the officer.

One round ripped through Dunlap's shoulder. Another struck him in the right hand, his shooting hand. A third entered his abdomen.

Three more rounds lodged in the back of his body armor. Those shots were fired as Dunlap ran for cover after being wounded.

A seventh slug was stopped by a small prayer book that Dunlap carried in his breast pocket. The bullet perforated his body armor and lodged in the booklet, said Robert Levine, a ballistics expert with the Allegheny County coroner's office.

Johnson, who described himself as a gun enthusiast and a good shot, said that had he wanted to kill Dunlap, he would have aimed at the officer's head.

Dunlap has testified that he was trying to arrest Johnson for making terroristic threats against various city employees. Johnson was fired from Clairton's Public Works Department because he carried a pistol on city property while allegedly making the threats.

Johnson said he believed Dunlap and other Clairton police officers were out to kill him.

Johnson was arrested in May 2000 on the threat charges, which were dismissed at a preliminary hearing. On the day of his arrest, he said that five police officers ambushed him outside his home and that Dunlap pointed his service pistol at him and pulled the trigger, only to have the gun misfire.

"There is nothing like looking at the barrel of a gun and then hearing that click," Johnson testified. "Oh, he scared me real good."

Dunlap, who left the force after the shooting, has testified that he aimed his gun at Johnson only because Johnson became belligerent when police tried to arrest him.

On Oct. 19, 2000, Johnson said, he was riding his son's bicycle to buy tobacco when Dunlap glared at him as he drove past in a police cruiser.

"This man was stalking me," Johnson testified.

Dunlap has testified that as he drove past Johnson, Johnson pointed his finger at him as if he had a gun and pretended to pull a trigger.

Moments later, Dunlap confronted Johnson in an alley just off Miller Street. He said Johnson, without provocation, pulled his pistol and began firing.

Johnson said yesterday that he pulled his gun because he saw Dunlap reaching for his own pistol.

The trial, which began Tuesday, could end today after the jury hears closing arguments from Assistant District Attorney Stephie Kapourales and defense attorney Ernest H. Sharif.

Jim McKinnon can be reached at jmckinnon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1939.

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