Family Of Romir Talley Sues Wilkinsburg For December Shooting Death

Oct 22, 2020

Attorneys for the family of a man killed by Wilkinsburg Police have filed a federal lawsuit citing excessive force. Romir Talley was fatally shot by Wilkinsburg Police officer Robert Gowans in December 2019.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, also includes claims of unreasonable seizure and improper training of officers by the police department.

Attorney Paul Jubas speaks to members of the media Thursday Oct. 22 on behalf of the family of Romir Talley.
Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

Romir Talley, 24, was shot during a foot chase around 1 a.m. Dec. 22 on Stoner Way in Wilkinsburg. Officers were responding to a report of a man pulling a handgun on another man near Penn Avenue at Wood Street. The Wilkinsburg Police Department said Talley matched the description of the suspect in that report.

The lawsuit claims Talley did not fit the description and fled because he feared for his life. “Romir did not fit the description given by the 911 caller, who claimed that the perpetrator was wearing a black jacket. Romir was wearing a grey hoodie when he was wrongfully profiled,” attorneys Paul Jubas and Max Petrunya wrote in a news release announcing the lawsuit Thursday.

The lawsuit claims while officers were pursuing Talley on foot, the 911 caller told dispatch that the suspect holding the gun was still on Penn Avenue. 

“The act of shooting Decedent Talley seven times is indicative of reckless, careless, wanton, and intentional conduct which shows depravity and deliberate indifference to the rights of Decedent Talley and others,” the complaint reads.

Wilkinsburg Police have said Talley fired first. Jubas and Talley’s family have called for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office to release the recording of the 911 call and the statements of Officer Gowans and other Wilkinsburg Police officers in connection with the death. Talley’s family has made public pleas at several protests over the summer

Attorney Paul Jubas spoke on behalf of the Talley family at a press conference Thursday. He says the family has been seeking more information for months about what happened that December night.

“Every single time that we started to get down to the nitty gritty of the important facts they just pushed the bill to the District Attorney’s office and the District Attorney’s office will offer no comment. They just say that their investigation is ongoing,” he said.

Gowans’ identity was not made public until Wilkinsburg Council announced the information during a meeting in August. Gowans was initially put on administrative leave in December, but has since returned to his job.

Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett, Police Chief Ophelia Coleman, officer Gowans and the borough of Wilkinsburg are named as defendants in the case. An unnamed officer, who the lawsuit alleges was Gowans’ partner the night of Talley’s death, is also listed.

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office said the shooting remains under review and declined to comment on the lawsuit. 

"This is not how things should be in 2020," Jubas said of the ongoing investigation. "There should be transparency, there should be accountability. There should be an open line of communication between families of police violence and the law enforcement agents that are investigating. And there is none of that." 

The suit claims Mayor Garrett and Chief Coleman are liable for the death due to inadequate training given to police officers and the department’s lack of police body cameras.

“The failure of the Wilkinsburg Police Department to implement these basic, cost effective, and almost universally used devices in 2019, which provide transparency, accountability, and trust in law enforcement, creates an environment where officers such as Officer Gowens, as a pattern and practice, can act with impunity and engage in unconstitutional and deliberately indifferent acts knowing that the true facts of the officer’s actions will not be discovered by law enforcement,” the complaint reads. 

Garrett and Coleman did not respond to WESA’s request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges seven counts, including battery against Gowans, deliberate indifference by the Wilkinsburg Police Department, failure to intervene by the unnamed officer, and Fourth and Fourtheenth amendment violations by Gowans and the unnamed officer.

Jubas will hold a press conference Thursday afternoon.

"This is not how things should be in 2020," Jubas said of the ongoing investigation. "There should be transparency, there should be accountability. There should be an open line of communication between families of police violence and the law enforcement agents that are investigating. And there is none of that." 

"This is not how things should be in 2020," Jubas said of the ongoing investigation. "There should be transparency, there should be accountability. There should be an open line of communication between families of police violence and the law enforcement agents that are investigating. And there is none of that."