Self-defense argued in ex-officer's manslaughter trial

Robin Fortune and Chauncey Ellison.
Robin Fortune and Chauncey Ellison.
Posted: November 21, 2013

A West Oak Lane woman testified Tuesday that she saw former Philadelphia police Sgt. Chauncey Ellison shoot her brother in the back and stand over him as if considering whether to fire again.

Mecca Drake described a chaotic scene the night of Nov. 17, 2008, when younger brother Lawrence Allen was shot and paralyzed during a confrontation with Ellison and then-girlfriend Officer Robin Fortune in a dispute about a stolen pizza.

Authorities have called Allen, 20, a "peacemaker" who was trying to defuse the situation involving the two officers, who were off-duty and in civilian clothes. Allen died three months later.

Lawyers for Ellison, 40, and Fortune, 45, told the Common Pleas Court jury that Allen was friends with the teen who took the pizza from Ellison's 14-year-old son, Chauncey Jr., and that he drew a revolver on Ellison.

Ellison is charged with voluntary manslaughter, conspiracy, and related counts. Fortune, who was with Ellison when the shooting happened, is charged with reckless endangerment and conspiracy.

Assistant District Attorney Gail Fairman said the evidence would show that no gun was found on the street near Allen's body or in a search of his Renovo Street house.

Both sides agree the events began after 6 p.m. when Ellison's son and another teen went to Bruno's, a neighborhood pizzeria. Walking home, the two were accosted by a slightly older teen, Demetrius Haywood, who grabbed the pie and knocked Ellison to the ground with a punch to the head.

Thereafter, accounts diverge.

Drake, testifying on the first day of the trial, said she and her brother were at home on Renovo when Haywood ran up saying that he had stolen a pizza and that an SUV was chasing him.

Drake said she walked down Renovo toward Andrews Street and saw an SUV heading the wrong way up Renovo. She said Ellison was at the wheel and was holding a gun at the open window.

Drake said Ellison got out of the SUV, followed by Fortune, whom Drake said was swearing and egging Ellison to "pop one of the [expletive]."

Drake said her brother offered to pay for the stolen pizza, reached into his pocket, and pulled out cash when he was shot.

Ellison's attorney, Brian J. McMonagle, and Gerald S. Stanshine, Fortune's lawyer, argued that their clients, as corroborated by two Renovo Street residents, reacted only after Allen drew the revolver. They called it self-defense.

Allen looked at Ellison and said, " 'Old head, I got something for you,' and he pulls out a silver handle," McMonagle told the jury.

The case has been controversial since the incident.

Ellison and Fortune were cleared of wrongdoing by former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. But it became one of several cases District Attorney Seth Williams decided to reopen after his 2009 election. Williams took the case to a grand jury, and Ellison and Fortune were arrested last year.

Allen's parents have filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city and Ellison that is pending in federal court.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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