PITTSBURGH, PA – Three marked police vehicles had been parked outside of the Pittsburgh Police Department’s training facility when they were intentionally set on fire. The three police vehicles were found to be a total loss.
— JOHN McKEE (@JOHNJgmckee) September 28, 2022
On September 28th around 2:30 a.m., the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire and officers with the Pittsburgh Police Department responded to a vehicle fire outside of their training facility. When officers and the firefighters arrived at the scene, they discovered that three marked police vehicles had been set ablaze.
WPXI spoke to Amanda Mueller, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Public Safety, regarding the incident. She said:
“Those vehicles were fully engulfed in flames and it’s pretty safe to say those are going to be a total loss.”
Mueller reported that the agency had received no intel of any possible threats before the vehicles were set on fire. She said:
“There really was no indication that we needed to be on high alert or that there was any specific security risk.”
Mueller reported authorities to believe that someone intentionally set the vehicles on fire and newer reports show that video surveillance in the area captured at least three people who are believed to have been involved.
Armed with the video evidence, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is working to identify those responsible for the crime. They have released pictures of some of the video surveillance video and are now offering a $10,000 reward for anyone who helps them identify the culprits.
While the investigating officers have not mentioned exactly what charges the suspects could face when captured, Phil DiLucente, a legal analyst, reported beyond the arson charges, those responsible could additionally face federal charges for terroristic threats. DiLucente said:
“There are going to be many crimes that result from it. Whether it’s a terrorist threat and/or hate crime under the federal or state statutes is another story. That’s where the investigation will be so important.”
NEW: Pittsburgh police & ATF are now looking for 2 people who set fire to 3 marked Pgh police cars – ATF is offering a $10,000 award to anyone with information leading to the arrest & conviction. pic.twitter.com/9s1XFOGQbK
— Gabriella DeLuca (@GabriellaDeLuca) September 29, 2022
Regardless of the motives of these three people, attacks on the police, destruction, and vandalism of police property have been on the rise since the death of George Floyd in 2020. One of the cases that saw police vehicles damaged was reported in November of 2021.
In that incident, someone happened along several SWAT vehicles that had been parked and decided to slash the tires of roughly six of them. Of course, there are often times when the need for these vehicles arises during a critical incident that is not planned.
Destruction of the vehicle tires is not only very expensive, but it rendered the vehicles useless if there was a critical need for them.
That means that if someone is in harm’s way, either an officer or resident, the help they would have received from the SWAT team is further delayed because vehicles would have to be acquired from other locations in the city.
Deputies then had a conversation with another civilian in the yard of the home. Their intent was only to detain her for erratic behavior, and she was not going to be arrested.
It only took a few minutes for that to change.
Cameras inside the vehicle captured what unfolded in that backseat and led to 36-year-old Rachael Zion Clay to be held on a $1 million bail.
The woman can be seen wiggling around, eventually freeing one of her hands from the cuffs. She was then able to reach through the partition, release the lock that held the deputy’s rifle.
After nearly four minutes, Clay can be seen haphazardly pointing the rifle out the back window and firing it blindly.
Authorities were able to confirm what video appeared to show.
“While in the back seat of a patrol car, she was able to get her wrist free from the handcuffs and the handcuffs were put on properly,” said Grady County Undersheriff Gary Boggess.
“There’s several switches, one is a gun switch to unlock the gun lock and she found it, unlocked the gun lock, and was able to retrieve an AR-15 rifle. Then she was able to figure out how to put a round in it, put it on fire and she fired approximately 10 rounds at our deputies and a civilian.”
Seconds later, as they all retreated to cover behind the other deputy’s vehicle, a blood stain appears on his shirt in the area he initially clutched.
A deputy radioed for additional units and EMS. He was also hit, with a round grazing his head, narrowly avoiding a more catastrophic outcome.
A young man can be seen coming out of the home, and officers telling him to get behind the vehicle. He was the son of the wounded civilian. Helped render aid to both injured men until EMS arrived.
Authorities say that both men were treated for non-life-threatening injuries and have been released.
The events of that day, while freak in nature, provided valuable insight into how things can be done differently to protect both law enforcement and innocent civilians.
Boggess told ABC 7 that his agency is looking into protocol and practice changes to prevent this sort if incident from happening again.
“One, I will say, is our console where it actually said ‘gun,’” he said. “She was able to see that. That’s going to be replaced. We’re going to put a switch someplace else in the vehicle to lock our gun.
It’s a freak deal. It’s one of these, I’m not going to say one in a million, but you know, it’s one of those deals that, you know, once it happens, then you go back and try to make sure it never happens again. That’s what we’re looking at.”
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