Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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PGC blames police for killing of bear

Deborah Weisberg

Southwest Correspondent

Claysburg, Pa. – With one eyewitness bound for court in last
month’s police shooting of a black bear, the Pennsylvania Game
Commission blames bystanders and local officers for the killing
that brought YouTube infamy to this rural Blair County
community.

The Game Commission has taken as much heat as Greenfield
Township police over the shooting. But while commission spokesman
Jerry Feaser confirms his agency ordered local officers to pull the
trigger, he said it was the mob mentality of bystanders— and police
failure to contain it – that led to that command.

“We were responsible for the bear,” he said. “Police were
responsible for the crowd. And there was no crowd control that
day.”

Don DiVencenzo, a bystander who got into a dust-up with police
during the incident, will appear in Roaring Spring magisterial
district court on disorderly conduct charges July 24. But men in a
pickup truck believed to have goaded the bear – a 275-pound male –
into Claysburg were neither named nor charged as of July 3, more
than two weeks after the shooting.

Greenfield Township Police Chief Ron Givler and Feaser insist
they are looking into the mens’ role, but are mum on details.

“If it’s a case of wildlife harassment, we take it seriously,”
said Feaser. “But I’m not going to comment on an on-going
investigation.”

The shooting occurred June 17 after the bear ran through town
and climbed into a tree near McCabe’s Trucking Company warehouse on
Bedford Street, reportedly chased by the pickup truck.

As police and Game Commission officers arrived on the scene, a
crowd began to gather. It swelled to 150 to 200 people who became
increasingly agitated when efforts to tranquilize the bear failed
to have much effect. The bear descended the tree and became
cornered near the wall of the warehouse.

According to Mark Leberfinger of the Altoona Mirror, which
reported extensively on the shooting, “The police and the Game
Commission told me the bear turned to face the crowd and was a
threat to public safety.”

Eyewitnesses told a different story, he said. “(They) say the
bear was not acting in an aggressive manner … that it took off over
a couple of fences and went into the trucking company parking lot
and was heading toward the wood line when police gunfire
erupted.”

Officers fired a reported 20 rounds, only seven of which hit the
bear. The rest hit the wall of the warehouse and a nearby
unoccupied vehicle.

Although Givler said he couldn’t confirm that the bear was
snapping its jaws aggressively, wounds were to the bear’s front,
indicating he was facing officers when he was shot.

The crowd had applauded when the bear was hit with
tranquilizers, but shouted and swore at police when they aimed
their shotguns and handguns at the animal. Among the more vocal was
DiVencenzo.

The self-employed construction worker, who was there with his
wife and 4-year-old grandson, wound up in handcuffs, charged with
disorderly conduct after an argument with officers. DiVencenzo
claims police roughed him up, allegations Givler disputes.

Videos of the incident surfaced on YouTube, MSNBC, and other Web
sites and stuffed bears appeared around Claysburg with signs
reading “Don’t Shoot Me.”

The Altoona Mirror ran an editorial cartoon lampooning the
officers’ marksmanship. It depicts two policemen standing over a
dead bear, with one asking, “Do you think he’s dead ” and the other
responding, “I hope so. We’re all out of ammo.”

But Givler said officers were disadvantaged in that they did not
have high-powered weapons – just handguns and shotguns – that would
have made killing the bear easier, and that they couldn’t contain a
wild animal and a wild crowd at the same time.

“Can you put four or five officers against 200 people and still
control a bear ” he said. “The answer is no.”

Feaser concedes that because bears can run 30 miles an hour, the
cornered bear could have charged the crowd in about five seconds,
but he said the mob ultimately forced the trigger.

“We handle hundreds of bears in nuisance situations every year.
If the crowd had behaved properly, if people hadn’t chased the bear
in the first place, it would have been a non-issue,” he said.

“We had responsibility and jurisdiction over the bear. But
police had responsibility for the crowd.”

(To watch a video of the incident, visit YouTube online
(www.youtube.com) and search for “Claysburg bear.”)

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