John A. Thompson, 38, of Liberty surrendered Wednesday to Allegheny County police on charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child in the Nov. 26 death of Gavin Thompson, 5.
“This has been a horrible tragedy for him and his family,” said Thompson’s attorney, Anthony DeLuca. “He’s grieving. He lost a son. This boy was his right-hand man.”
Thompson was released on non-monetary bond and faces a hearing Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
Thompson was at his F Street home with four of his five children when Gavin used an office chair to climb up and grab the pistol from a shelf in a bedroom closet, according to a criminal complaint. Gavin died from a self-inflicted shot in his head.
Thompson told police he kept the gun “ready to rock” with a loaded magazine and round in the chamber, the complaint said. He said after returning from a trip, he put it in the closet, where he keeps snacks he grabs on his way to work, the complaint said. He told police it is an ongoing battle to keep the kids away from the snacks.
His wife, Sherrin, placed Christmas presents in the closet, and Thompson told police he thinks at least his oldest child knew the presents were there, the complaint said.
Thompson told police he taught his oldest son how to handle firearms but had to slap Gavin’s hands in the past for touching the weapons, the complaint said.
Thompson is on administrative leave from Port Vue police, where he is a full-time officer, DeLuca said. He works part time for Liberty police and hasn’t been on the schedule, DeLuca said.
DeLuca said he was shocked when police filed charges against Thompson.
“It’s a horrible accident, but that’s what it is — an accident,” DeLuca said. “It would be beyond belief that anyone would expect the child to get a hold of that weapon.”
National law enforcement groups said there are no clear guidelines on how officers should store weapons at home. Chuck Canterbury, national president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said weapon storage is left up to each department to decide.
Police agencies must address the issue in order to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, but how they do it is discretionary, said Stephen Mitchell, a program manager with the private nonprofit.
Mitchell said some departments provide portable gun safes or trigger locks for officers; others don’t let officers carry weapons at all times.