The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

June 27, 2012

Keep public informed, rumors at bay

— An early-morning confrontation Monday involving city police officers and mostly “twenty-somethings” has left a man dead, two others wounded, three officers on paid administrative leave – and a region buzzing.

It has prompted, as expected and as all involved deserve, an immediate and what appears to be an intensive criminal investigation.

It, too, again has turned focus onto an all-too-frequently troubled Oakhurst neighborhood and on what some residents say is growing and dangerous illegal drug activity.

The dead man was Elip Cheatham, whose criminal past included at least two stints behind bars.

We urge:

* Area residents to remain calm, patient, non-judgmental, and to allow the investigative process to work, hopefully efficiently and effectively.

* Law-enforcement officers to continue to be upfront with the public and to continue sharing information as it becomes available. We have little trouble with that to this point.

Cheatham’s death – he was shot multiple times – officially has been listed as a homicide, making details especially sensitive. But investigators must be cognizant of the public’s right to know and to be informed.

Potentially dangerous rumors must be quashed.

Cheatham was shot reportedly as he accelerated his car in the direction of police and other emergency responders and another vehicle in police custody at the time.

Fortunately for the city police department this is rather new ground to cover – the last time an officer had been involved in a fatal shooting was in 1973.

Most impressive on Monday was how quicky the outside law-enforcement community responded: We’re told that a team of 15 to 20 state troopers, along with the district attorney’s and coroner’s offices, took over the investigation – as is standard practice.

Also impressive was the early-afternoon press conference called to update the media – and, ultimately, the public. More details and names were released on Tuesday.

First Assistant DA Heath Long told our Sandra Reabuck Tuesday that the city’s detective force had been particularly effective and helpful in aiding probers in the hours immediately following the shootings.

We’ve been told two separate shootings took place – one involving the three police officers and one involving 27-year-old Shy-Tyquon Lawton, of Johnstown. He has been charged with the wounding of a 20-year-old Johnstown man outside Edder’s Den, a Sheridan Street bar.   

We still have not learned the names of the three officers involved. We believe it is important officials release them in a timely fashion.

Obviously, much is still being clarified and verified.                                       We would expect state liquor officers to probe whether or not Edder’s Den had played any role in what transpired in the early-morning hours Monday.

In all fairness, to this point we have reported only that a shooting had taken place outside the tavern.

Although arguably already shorthanded and even moreso with the three officers placed on leaves, we would expect the city police department to maintain increased nighttime patrols in the Oakhurst area. Additional state police presence is also warranted.

If indeed a drug problem exists there, Cambria County Drug Task Force officers should become involved.

We also urge everyone with information, no matter how minor, to come forward and aid investigators.

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