Police Commander Dom Costa
Pittsburgh (PA ) Police Department
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Police Commander Dom Costa as its Officer of the Month for July 2003. Commander Costa has served as a police negotiator with the Pittsburgh (PA) Police Department since 1981.
Even as a child the excitement of the law enforcement profession appealed to him. A close family friend, Officer Mayer DeRoy, would sit for hours answering young Dom's questions about life as a police officer. When not on a call he would even allow young Costa to sit in his patrol car. The seeds of a career were sown, and in November 1979, Dom Costa joined the Pittsburgh Police Department.
For the past twenty-four years Commander Dom Costa has served the people of Pittsburgh with distinction and honor. For a police negotiator, no call is ever routine and even when not on duty, these officers rarely don't respond. Such was the case on February 20, 2002; it was Dom Costa's day off and he was almost home when he heard the call on his radio. Some might have ignored the call, but Commander Costa felt a duty-bound to respond, never realizing that it would nearly cost him his life.
Commander Costa arrived at the scene three hours into the standoff. Cecil Brookins, who during the past twenty-five years had had many encounters with the Pittsburgh Police, had positioned himself on the roof of the building. Armed with a handgun, he was threatening to take aim at passersby and the police who now surrounded the building.
Knowing that the suspect has already refused to speak with the police, in an attempt to begin some dialogue Commander Costa spoke to Brookins through an open window, introducing himself as a social worker. Shortly afterward Brookins realized that Costa was a police officer, however, by this time enough trust had developed between the two that Brookins agreed to descend down onto a lower part of the roof. Still distrustful of the other police officers on site, Brookins asked that all police leave the premises. Not able to meet that demand, Commander Costa instead asked that all police units be removed from the third floor.
Not knowing that his orders to have the SWAT team leave the third floor was countermanded; Commander Costa and Brookins entered the house through the window and shook hands. Still highly agitated, Brookins asked for a mirror so that he might look around the corner to see for himself that the SWAT team had left. As Commander Costa handed it to him, the suspect caught sight of SWAT team members in an adjacent room. Again Commander Costa was able calm Brookins and ease him into the next room, explaining that these officers were there only to take him into custody. As Costa stepped out of the way to retrieve a submachine gun left behind by another officer, Brookings pulled a second weapon from his trousers and began firing.
Costa dove through an open doorway as a bullet whizzed past his ear, and before he hit the ground, he felt a horrible burning sensation and terrible pain shooting across his shoulder and back, causing numbness in his hands. Although in excruciating pain, Costa attempted to return fire, but Brookins too was down, mortally wounded by one of the SWAT team members. Knowing too that Officer Thomas Huerbin was also injured, Commander Costa tried to remain calm and think of his wife and son. He was determined to survive for them; he had a son to raise and a wife to provide for. A CAT scan performed at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center showed a bullet lodged in the left side of Cost brain, having first traveled up his shoulder, under his spine, and into his skull.
Ironically, what had driven Brookins to the roof that morning was his concern about the violence and crime in the city of Pittsburgh, particularly what he called the "black-on-black" issue. He had wanted to speak to the media about his concerns and in a bizarre twist of fate, he got his wish; his story became the lead news report that evening.
Today Commander Costa is recovering and thankful to be alive. The bullet will remain in his skull, as the operation to remove it is much too risky. He still struggles with numbness in his hands, hearing loss in the left ear, and periodic headaches making it impossible for him to return to the job that he loves; at least he says, "For now".
When asked if he had any regrets about that terrible day, Commander Costa said, "I don't have any ill feelings toward Mr. Brookins, no matter what anyone may think. I don't hate him for what he did. I wish he wouldn't have done it, but he did. He's the one who chose the way it ended."