Black Man Charged With Attempted Murder of Cops Who Nearly Killed Him Says He Was Unarmed
(See update at bottom.)
Andre Fiorentino, 32, says he was unarmed when two Coatesville, Pennsylvania, police officers opened fire on him last month outside his home. He was struck several times and nearly bled out while shackled face down on the ground in front of his mother and 14-year-old son.
Just one day after the incident, the authorities determined that the shooting was justified based on police claims that Fiorentino was armed with two guns and shot at them twice, prompting officers to return fire. Fiorentino has since been charged with attempted murder of two police officers.
But his family isn’t buying it.
Fiorentino’s sister, Arden Hunt, contacted me a few weeks ago about her brother’s case. She pointed to several holes in the police narrative about what took place that night and expressed dismay at the authorities for spending less than 24 hours investigating the incident.
“They justified the shooting within 24 hours without talking to my brother,” Hunt told me. “He couldn’t even speak. He was in an induced coma.”
On November 24, one day after Fiorentino was shot, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced that the investigation into the incident was complete and that the shooting was deemed justified. He praised the officers and portrayed Fiorentino as a career criminal who deserved what he got.
“Given the defendant’s conduct, the defendant was lucky he was not killed and Chester County is lucky that two police officers are not dead,” Hogan said in a statement. “In Chester County, we will not permit our police officers to be targeted. It will be a long time before this defendant sees blue sky again.”
Hogan was quick to highlight Fiorentino’s criminal past, even referring to him by his supposed street name, “Needles”.
“My brother is not ‘Needles’,” said Hunt, in response. “His name is Andre.”
Coatesville made headlines earlier this year when the school superintendent and athletic director were forced to resign over viciously racist texts that had been leaked to the media. Hunt said this racism is far from isolated to school authorities and extends well into the police department, which routinely harasses young black men in Coatesville’s poorest neighborhoods.
Hunt also expressed frustration with the local press for unquestioningly echoing police claims while failing to interview anyone in her family. While she freely admits her brother has a criminal past, she says this isn’t uncommon. “In Coatesville, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a family member that’s been charged or arrested.”
The Police Version
On Saturday, November 23, around 1:00am, two Coatesville police officers on patrol say they approached Fiorentino and asked him for identification after they observed him looking into the windows of parked cars. But, according to police, he refused and reached for his waistband to retrieve what they feared was a gun. One of the officers pulled out his Taser and commanded Fiorentino to stop. That’s when police say Fiorentino pulled out a gun and fired two shots at the officers (neither was hit). The officers fired back, striking Fiorentino multiple times, causing him to fall to the ground and drop his gun.
As the officers approached him, they say he reached for the gun again, yelling, “F— you, you pigs can’t kill me!” at which point police moved the gun away from Fiorentino. The authorities identified the firearm as a .38-caliber, five-shot revolver that was reported stolen last year in Johnstown, Penn. “[I]t contained two spent shell casings, two live shell casings, and one shell casing that had been struck by the firing pin but did not discharge,” reported The Coatesville Times.
Soon after, an ambulance arrived and transported Fiorentino to Paoli Hospital. During the ride, police say a second gun was recovered from Fiorentino’s clothing—“.40-caliber, semi-automatic handgun with a live round in the chamber and an obliterated serial number,” according to the Times.
Shackled and Bleeding out
Fiorentino’s mother, Jeanie, was asleep in her bed when she awoke to 8 loud rapid-fire gunshots.
“When I came outside, the police officer had a gun pointed at my son’s head,” she told me, adding that he was face down, shackled and bleeding profusely at the time.
“I was crying and screaming, ‘Oh my God, you shot my son!’ Then one of the policemen said, ‘Get the F— back’ and he told the other officer to handcuff me. My son was saying, ‘Mama, I’m okay.’ Then he said it again, a little softer. He could barely talk.”
She added, “I don’t think they called the ambulance. Someone in my house did.”
Fiorentino’s 14-year-old son was at the house that night as well. Upon hearing gunshots, he ran outside to the porch and was the first to see his father handcuffed and bloody. Jeanie is concerned that her grandson has been traumatized by what he witnessed. “I know that can do a lot to a kid because I see what it did to me,” she said. “I still see the whole thing right outside my window when I’m sleeping in my bed.”
Asked whether or not her son was armed, Jeanie responded, “I don’t know if he had a gun. There was a little gun in the street. I seen the police officer kick the gun away from Andre and then another officer came from the opposite side to pick up the gun.”
However, she does not believe her son shot at the officers, especially since the gunshots she heard were rapid and successive, meaning they came from the same gun.
As for the gun that was found on his clothing during transport to the hospital, Jeanie was skeptical. “They wouldn’t let me go to the hospital with him. I cried and begged. They sent a woman police officer with him.”
Hunt also expressed suspicion at the idea that a gun would be found on her brother after police would have undoubtedly frisked him.
The family has since hired a lawyer and plans to push back against police claims.
Cutting Off Communication
On Monday, November 26, two days after he was shot, Fiorentino was officially arrested. Thought he was still lying in a hospital bed fighting for his life, bail was set at $2 million and guards were stationed outside his room at Paoli Hospital. From that point on, his family was prevented from seeing and speaking with him and the hospital staff stopped giving them updates about Fiorentino’s medical status.
“At first I was allowed to get daily updates from the nurses,” said Jeanie. “Then suddenly they tell me I have to call Chester County Prison. When I did that, the prison said to call the hospital. I did it twice and then gave up.”
Jeanie began to cry as she described the agony of not being able to comfort her son. “They won’t let me see him or hear him. If he was in jail he could call me. We recently sent cards but I’m not sure if he received them. I want to tell him that we love him and haven’t given up on him,” she said.
Hunt sees this as a civil rights issue. “His rights have been violated,” she said. “He deserves to have visitors and phone calls.”
On December 15, Fiorentino was transferred to the medical unit at Chester County Prison, where he has continued his recovery. His family has finally been given access to him and says he is “in good spirits.”
Though it is unknown how many bullets struck Fiorentino—Hunt says doctors would not give the family a specific number—the gunshot wounds were overwhelming. Injuries included a damaged kidney that had to be removed, a perforated bowel and a shattered femur, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the police department will not disclose the names of the two officers who shot Fiorentino, only that they are military veterans. But Hunt, who has spoken with people in the neighborhood, has no doubt that the officers responsible are Joe Thompson and Ryan Corcoran.
According to Hunt, Thompson is notorious throughout the neighborhood for racially based harassment.
“I hear people, all black, complaining about this one police officer, Thompson,” said Hunt. “Why is he still working the streets? Why is he not on desk duty?”
“Some say they felt like my brother was setup, like they wanted to kill him,” she added. “When he got to the hospital they couldn’t quantify how much blood was in him because he lost so much.”
Fiorentino’s preliminary hearing has been scheduled for January 28.
UPDATE: Paul Hetznecker, Andre Fiorentino’s attorney, tells me that it is “unheard of” for a police shooting investigation as serious as this one to be settled within 24 hours.
“I am shocked that any major police shooting in any jurisdiction would resolve in such a short period of time. It calls into question the methods and results of the investigation conducted by the Chester County authorities,” says Hetznecker.
“I have handled in my 26 years as a criminal and civil rights attorney dozens and dozens of cases involving police discharging their weapons and I’ve never seen an investigation conducted in just one day as serious as this that clears the officers of wrongdoing.”
*I will continue to follow this story as it develops. Expect updates.