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City Neighborhoods
SWAT officer ordered team in, fearing suspect had seen them

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

By Jim McKinnon, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Tensions ran high that rainy day in Homewood.

Cecil Brookins, 47, is escorted to the courtroom of Judge Donna Jo McDaniel in the Allegheny County Courthouse yesterday. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

City police Officer Jason Bahm testified yesterday that he believed his cover had been blown when he and two others on the Special Weapons and Tactics team were spotted through a window by a man who was holding officers at bay.

"Compromise!" Bahm yelled into his police radio, alerting the other SWAT team members at the scene to move in.

The team's subsequent reaction came an instant before a gun battle that left a city police commander wounded, an officer with two bullets in his protective vest, and the suspect, Cecil Brookins, curled in a corner of a room with five wounds.

Bahm, in his testimony at Brookins' trial before Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel, said that when the shooting stopped at Brookins' Hermitage Street home, he rolled the suspect over and found he had a snub-nose .38-caliber, five-shot revolver. He then checked on his fallen comrades.

Under questioning by Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Beemer to explain his warning call, Bahm said: "[Brookins] looked directly at me and slammed the window shut. He appeared surprised. I firmly believed that the final altercation was about to take place."

Brookins, 47, is charged with six counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated assault, four counts of reckless endangerment and other offenses connected with the Feb. 20, 2002, standoff. It occurred when police went to arrest him on drug dealing charges.

Police Cmdr. Dom Costa, who is credited with nearly persuading Brookins to surrender, was shot once. The bullet passed across his back, bounced off his spine and lodged in his brain. It is positioned too precariously for surgery to remove it, doctors have told him.

Officer Thomas Huerbin was struck twice in the chest by bullets that were caught by his protective vest.

Cmdr. Dom Costa, who was shot in the standoff in Homewood, walks into the courtroom, where he testified in the case involving Brookins. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)

Bahm said Brookins had alluded to that final moment in the hours of the standoff as he strode back and forth on the roof of the house where he lived.

He said Brookins had yelled to the crowd on the street below, saying, "If [police] come up here, I will kill them."

Later, he said, Brookins bemoaned the ills of the crime-plagued neighborhood.

"He said he was tired of seeing babies killed, tired of girls getting shot on their way home from school, elderly people being afraid to come out. He said he was going to stop it," Bahm said.

As night began to fall and the rain eased, Bahm said Brookins made a final promise before he went back inside through the window to surrender to Costa, commander of the Squirrel Hill station who had happened by the siege and took over the negotiations.

Bahm didn't see who fired the first shots. He said he heard the first pop and took cover when, through the window, he saw an officer enter the room and begin firing at Brookins, who was near the window.

Costa testified Monday that he didn't see where the initial shot originated, but later he did see the revolver on the floor near where Brookins lay wounded.

When questioned at the scene, he told investigators that he believed Brookins had left his only weapon, a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, outside on a chimney ledge. At a preliminary hearing two months later, Costa did not mention that Brookins was armed when he returned inside to the third-floor room.

Lead defense attorney Charles Porter has said that Brookins, in fact, was not armed when the shooting started. He contends that the weapon Brookins is accused of using did not land in police hands until five weeks after the shootings.

Porter told a jury in his opening statement that the .38 was stolen March 24, 2002, and reported as such five days later by a Clairton man.

Porter is expected to cross-examine Bahm when the trial resumes today.

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

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