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One McKeesport officer killed, another wounded in confrontation with armed man

Allegheny County Police Superintendent Christopher Kearns speaks during a news conference on Monday, Feb. 6.
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Allegheny County Police Superintendent Christopher Kearns speaks during a news conference on Monday, Feb. 6.

Two McKeesport police officers were shot and wounded — one of them fatally — Monday afternoon in a confrontation with a man who also was wounded after exchanging shots with a third McKeesport officer, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Christopher Kearns said.

McKeesport Police Chief Adam Alfer identified the slain officer as Sean Sluganski, 32, and the wounded officer as Charles Thomas Jr., 35. On Monday night, county police charged the wounded man, Johnathan Jermia Morris, 31, of McKeesport, with homicide and other offenses related to the officers' shootings.

The confrontation began after McKeesport police were dispatched at 12:11 p.m. Monday to a home in the 1400 block of Wilson Avenue where a man was experiencing "a mental health crisis," Kearns said. The man walked away from the home without speaking, and a family member told police that the man may have been armed, he said.

Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA

The man walked as far as the 1300 block of Grandview Avenue, where he produced a handgun and shot the officers, Kearns said. The man continued walking to the intersection of Versailles and Patterson avenues, where he encountered a third McKeesport officer. There was "an exchange of gunfire" between the man and the third officer in which the man was wounded, Kearns said.

Sluganski was taken to UPMC McKeesport, where he was pronounced dead. Thomas was flown by medical helicopter to a Pittsburgh hospital for treatment, where he initially was listed in stable condition. He later was discharged from the hospital "and is at home recovering with his family," Alfer said in a statement Monday night.

The wounded man, later identified in court records as Morris, was also treated at a hospital, police said. In addition to homicide, he is charged with two counts each of aggravated assault, assault of a law enforcement officer with a firearm discharged and criminal attempt-murder of a law enforcement officer.

County police are continuing to investigate the circumstances prior to the shootings. Allegheny County Sheriff's deputies answered other calls for McKeesport police on Monday.

Sluganski joined the McKeesport police department in January 2020 and was promoted to full-time status in January 2021, Alfer said. Thomas is a four-year veteran of the department.

"This is a tragic loss for our department and our community," the chief said in his statement. "We have lost a friend, a trusted colleague and an officer whose passion was providing service to the public. At this time, we ask that you keep all of our officers and their families in your hearts, particularly the families of Officer Sluganski and Officer Thomas."

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko also asked for prayers on behalf of the officer’s family and the entire community.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can, utilize the resources around us, collaborate with other law enforcement agencies and continue to do what we can to make McKeesport a better place to live, and a safe place,” he said.

But residents watching the scene unfold in the neighborhood voiced concerns about a lack of police resources and the city’s response to frequent shootings.

McKeesport resident Jeff Anderson said he hears gunshots every day.

“We need help here in this community to help get this to stop,” Anderson said. Whether that assistance came from county, state, or other local agencies, “Somebody needs to step in here and help these guys out.”

Anderson said police need more resources in order to effectively patrol the city and curb gun violence, especially among adolescents.

The McKeesport Police Department employs 55 full-time officers, according to its website. But Anderson said police don’t patrol the streets as they once did.

“When I was growing up, there were cops that rode the beat around here. There were cops that rode bicycles all summer long,” Anderson said. “You don’t see that no more, ever.”

The McKeesport Area Shared Ministry United Methodist Church hosted a community prayer for peace at its Beulah Park campus at 7 p.m. Monday. A service also was held at St. Patrick Church in McKeesport.

Updated: February 6, 2023 at 10:40 PM EST
This story has been updated to include the charges filed by Allegheny County Police.
Updated: February 6, 2023 at 9:51 PM EST
This story has been updated to identify the McKeesport officers and add comments from McKeesport Police Chief Adam Alfer.
Updated: February 6, 2023 at 6:50 PM EST
This story has been updated with new information.
Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.