HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania — Lancaster County's chief prosecutor said Friday that a police officer was justified in shooting an alleged drunken driver during a February chase in central Pennsylvania, but the driver's lawyer disputed the official version of what happened.
District Attorney Craig Stedman said Kenneth White's car struck four other vehicles, ran eight steady red lights and occasionally traveled on the wrong side of the road during the midday chase Feb. 11. White's blood-alcohol level was more than five times the legal limit, he said in a report on the incident.
"Considering the time of day and the amount of pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area, it was inevitable that White would have seriously injured or killed someone," Stedman wrote in a report on the shooting.
But White's lawyer, William Hobson of Philadelphia, said neither the chase nor the shooting was justified. He said he believes the officers, who were white, singled out his client because he is black.
"The whole basis for this stop was basically unfounded," said Hobson. It was "a selective police action based upon his race."
Hobson said he is considering filing a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the Lancaster Police Department on grounds that the officers used excessive force to apprehend his client.
"He should not have been a victim of the gunshots," he said.
The district attorney's findings come at a time of increased national scrutiny of police shootings, particularly of unarmed black men. Stedman said that his deputy handled the investigation and that he stood by his findings.
"I can certainly say that race is irrelevant," Stedman said in an email.
White, 38, who was wounded in his thigh, remains in Lancaster County Prison. He faces charges that include drunken driving and aggravated assault.
The chase started after a 911 call to report a car had been driven onto a sidewalk in Lancaster, about 40 miles southeast of Harrisburg. Police pursued White's car in and around the city at speeds of up to 60 mph until the vehicle didn't negotiate a turn and came to a stop.
In his report, Stedman said two officers positioned their patrol cars on either side of White's stopped car and got out to take him into custody. But White then accelerated in reverse, and one officer fired two rounds at him to protect the other officer, Stedman said.
Hobson questioned the report's description of events leading up to the shooting.
"My client did not back up the vehicle ... and the vehicle was not capable of going in reverse," he said.