Off-Duty Police Officer Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter, Other Offenses for Assault of Witness at Beaver County Shooting Scene

December 13, 2023 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Michelle Henry announced the filing of charges against John J. Hawk, a Center Township police officer who was off-duty when he assaulted a man at the scene of a shooting last year outside a Walmart in Monaca. The 48-year-old victim died after he was knocked to the ground and struck his head on asphalt.

During the subsequent investigation, Hawk allegedly was untruthful while testifying about the incident before a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury.

The Grand Jury, after hearing testimony over a period of months, recently signed a presentment recommending the following charges: involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and perjury.

Charges were filed Wednesday, when Hawk turned himself in for arraignment. He was arraigned and bail was set at $200,000 unsecured. Hawk, 37, was an officer with the Center Township Police Department at the time of the incident.

“This sworn officer’s actions caused the death of a man who did not present a threat of any kind on the day in question,” Attorney General Henry said. “Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve, and a badge does not permit any officer to break the laws they are trusted to uphold. My office will hold public officials accountable when they step out of line and harm citizens of the Commonwealth.”

The 48-year-old victim was a bystander at a shooting scene outside the Walmart store in Center Township on November 6, 2022. As police investigated, the victim approached an officer about potential evidence he wanted to provide to police. Hawk, who was off-duty wearing casual clothing, confronted the victim and pulled him away from the officer.

Hawk did not announce himself as police, did not display law enforcement credentials, and was not heard or seen announcing the victim as under arrest. Additionally, under Center Township Police Department policy, Hawk did not have authority to place the man under arrest.

Shortly after, as Hawk and the victim were standing, Hawk struck the victim in the chest — while performing a leg-sweep maneuver — which knocked the man to the ground.

The victim died upon arrival at an area hospital. The medical examiner determined that the blunt force trauma and accompanying stress inflicted by Hawk contributed to the death.

The investigation revealed that the victim was compliant with orders to back away from the investigating officer, was not aggressive, and did not pose a physical threat to Hawk or anyone else.

On-duty officers testified that Hawk was asked to only secure the scene perimeter, noting that Hawk did not have police credentials displayed and did not announce himself as police.

The Grand Jury found that there was no legal justification for Hawk’s use of force against the victim.

All charges are accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. This case is being prosecuted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Evan Lowry.

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