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June 01, 2023

Family of slain Temple police officer sues alleged killer and parents for negligence, wrongful death

Christopher Fitzgerald, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant, was fatally shot on Feb. 18

Courts Lawsuits
Fitzgerald Lawsuit Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

The surviving family members of Christopher Fitzgerald, the Temple University police sergeant who was killed while on duty in February, have sued alleged shooter Miles Pfeffer and his family members for negligence and wrongful death.

The family of Christopher Fitzgerald, the Temple University police officer who was fatally shot earlier this year while trying to detain a carjacking suspect, has filed a lawsuit against alleged killer Miles Pfeffer, his parents and his mother's longtime boyfriend for negligence and wrongful death. 

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday night in the Court of Common Pleas, describes the Feb. 18 shooting as a "horrific and tragic act of barbarism" that could have been prevented by Pfeffer, his father Mark Pfeffer, his mother Jill Petruska and her boyfriend George Shaw, all of whom allegedly knew about Pfeffer's "mental instability, propensity for violence and strong interest in using firearms." Pfeffer was charged with murder but has not been convicted.

The lawsuit delves into allegations made against Pfeffer and his family, including that Petruska picked him up on the night of Fitzgerald's killing and drove him to their Buckingham Township home, where he was arrested the following morning. The complaint claims that Pfeffer's home was a "safe haven" where he was given unfettered access to firearms, despite reported juvenile offenses, school infractions and bomb threats made to Central Bucks South High School. 

At around 7:15 p.m. on Feb. 18, Fitzgerald stopped three people while patrolling for carjacking suspects. Two fled while a scuffle ensued with Pfeffer, who allegedly shot the officer multiple times before carjacking another person at gunpoint.

Of the two people who fled, one was Pfeffer's brother and both helped identify Pfeffer as a key suspect in the shooting. Shell casings from the location where Fitzgerald was shot matched ammunition later found at Pfeffer's home.

The lawsuit claims that Petruska, Shaw and Mark Pfeffer's failure to properly secure, transfer or dispose of firearms to keep them away from Pfeffer constitutes negligence and led to Fitzgerald's killing. The surviving family members — including wife Marissa Fitzgerald, parents Joel and Pauline Fitzgerald and the sergeant's four children — are seeking damages under the Wrongful Death Act as well as $50,000 from each named defendant.

"This lawsuit will hold Pfeffer's family legally responsible for the negligence and enablement that contributed to Sgt. Fitzgerald's tragic death," said Joseph Marrone, founder of the law firm representing Fitzgerald's family. "Chris was a loving husband and father, as well as a dedicated officer with a distinguished record of service to the Temple University community. His senseless death has left a deep void in the lives of his family, friends, and fellow officers." 

Pfeffer's first preliminary hearing was postponed, 6ABC reported; court records indicate that Pfeffer will appear in court on July 18. He is currently being held without bail. 

Fitzgerald was laid to rest on Feb. 24 at a public funeral service held at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, which began with a motorcade of police officers rolling past places in the city that had been significant in Fitzgerald's life.

In March, City Council voted unanimously to designate the 1700 block of West Montgomery Avenue as Christopher Fitzgerald Way. The resolution noted that Fitzgerald was known for "his hard work and dedication to his oath to keep the public safe." Temple paid for Fitzgerald's funeral and will cover tuition for his children if they choose to attend. The university's board of trustees raised more than $450,000 to benefit Fitzgerald's family. 

Fitzgerald's killing renewed concerns about public safety in and around Temple's campus. Following the shooting death of 21-year-old student Samuel Collington in November 2021, former university president Jason Wingard pledged to increase the school's police force by 50%. Wingard resigned from his position earlier this year and was replaced by JoAnne Epps in April.