Chief defends police in mall shooting

PARKERSBURG – The officers involved in the shooting of a fleeing suspect at the Grand Central Mall Thursday are veteran investigators who have served the Parkersburg Police Department well, Police Chief Joe Martin said Thursday.

Martin identified Detective P.M. Edelen as the officer who shot and killed 24-year-old Steven Lewis Pfalzgraf, last known address of 604 32nd St., Parkersburg, when Pfalzgraf allegedly turned his car toward the detective and drove forward. That happened after Pfalzgraf dragged Parkersburg Detective J.M. Stalnaker when the officer reached into his vehicle to try to get the key out of the ignition.

The incident happened after Stalnaker and Edelen pursued an alleged purse snatcher out of the mall food court and the suspect got into Pfalzgraf’s car. The detectives and several other area law enforcement officials were undergoing Homeland Security Department training in the mall at the time.

The West Virginia State Police are investigating the incident. Parkersburg Police still plan their own internal investigation, but Martin said what he’s been told by the state police so far indicates the officers’ actions were proper.

“I feel very confident that our officers acted within the scope of their duties and the policies and procedures of our department,” he said.

“(Edelen) feared for his safety as well as the safety of Detective Stalnaker,” Martin said. “He presented his weapon in a defensive manner to prevent harm to himself or Detective Stalnaker.”

The detectives have been placed on administrative duty-“mostly it’s data entry and answering phones,” the chief said, while the matter is reviewed and to give them time to process and deal with what’s happened.

“For them to be put in a situation to take another human’s life, it’s difficult for them,” Martin said.

Edelen is a five-year veteran of the Parkersburg Police Department, while Stalnaker has been with the force for 12 years. Neither has had any disciplinary issues, Martin said.

“They’ve been exemplary officers in the patrol division and investigative division,” the chief said. “They’re seasoned investigators. … They both have always displayed good judgment.”

The officers were participating in a surveillance exercise in the food court when a woman called for help, Martin said. The detectives saw a man fleeing with the woman’s purse and they pursued him, identifying themselves as police officers, investigators have said.

The man ran into the parking lot and got into a car driven by Pfalzgraf. Stalnaker attempted to pull the key from the ignition, and Pfalzgraf allegedly put the vehicle in motion, dragging the officer with him.

Martin said Stalnaker could have suffered career- or even life-threatening injuries, but he was fortunate enough to be treated and released from a hospital that evening.

Pfalzgraf then turned the vehicle toward Edelen and drove toward him, the chief said.

Although the officers were in Vienna rather than Parkersburg, Martin said he doubts it occurred to them they were outside their usual jurisdiction. A police officer is a police officer whether on duty or not, he said.

“I was glad they acted,” Martin said. “It’s unfortunate how it turned out. … I have no doubt in my mind that if they hadn’t acted, we would have been ridiculed or criticized for that.”

Pfalzgraf’s vehicle continued on to the parking lot at Toys “R” Us before stopping. Two passengers – identified by police as husband and wife John and Jenna Ragalyi of New Matamoras- fled the scene and later turned themselves in to Parkersburg Police. John Ragalyi is the suspected purse snatcher.

The Ragalyis have been released as the investigation continues and potential charges are considered.

“It may take some time before there are any charges,” said Lt. Michael Baylous, with the West Virginia State Police.