Are abusive police being disciplined?

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Officers Kenneth Simon and Anthony Scarpine, arrested Nov. 9 for allegedly framing and shaking down drug suspects, are on paid leave. District Attorney Stephen Zappalas’s office said the charges jeopardize at least one case the officers worked on.

Officer Dwayne Ausbrooks, charged with domestic violence after allegedly assaulting a girlfriend in his car Nov. 19, is on desk duty.

nateharper
CHIEF NATE HARPER

And 11 months after officers Michael Saldutte, Richard Ewing and David Sisak allegedly beat CAPA student Jordan Miles during a January arrest in Homewood, they too remain on administrative leave with pay, awaiting the conclusion of investigations by the Bureau of Police Office of Municipal Investigations and the FBI.

The only officer fired recently for “rogue” actions was Det. Bradley Walker. He was terminated in August after an off-duty road rage incident where he kicked another driver’s car then broke a window to reach in and grab the man by the throat.

In addition, Walker had a previous record of road rage from 1999 when he was charged with waving his gun at a driver on Route 51.Those charges were dropped because the driver was assured Walker would be disciplined. But in 2007, Walker was again in court after being charged with assaulting his wife and son. He was ordered to undergo counseling.

Does it take 10 years and multiple incidents to terminate officers charged with brutality?

pittinger
ELIZABETH PITTINGER

When the New Pittsburgh Courier asked for clarification on police disciplinary policy two months ago, neither Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s office, nor the Fraternal Order of Police returned calls for comment.

“They suspend these guys, say OMI is doing an investigation, and hope everyone forgets about it and bring them back quietly,” said Citizens Police Review Board Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger. “If there hadn’t been video, Simon and Scarpine probably wouldn’t have been arrested. We’ve heard multiple complaints about officers ripping off dealers—but they’re dealers. They don’t have any credibility.”

Pittinger said officers have told her that when it comes to discipline in the bureau, “it’s not what you did, it’s who you know.”

“When a disciplinary action is filed on an officer, everyone in the chain of command above gets to either amend it, approve it or reject it,” she said. “But if there’s a charge of some sort, there’s this other OMI investigation track. Ultimately it gets to the chief.”

Though firing officers for aggravated assault, or worse, would seem to be an obvious choice, the city hasn’t fared well when terminating officers. The last time Chief Nate Harper suspended an officer without pay, the officer, Paul Abel got his job back.

In June 2008, Abel was punched in the face by Kaleb Miller at a bar while celebrating his wife’s birthday on the South Side. The off-duty Abel, who had been drinking, then went to his car, took his service weapon from the trunk and pistol-whipped Miller. During the beating the gun discharged, the round grazing Miller.

Last year, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning ruled Abel’s action “inappropriate, imprudent and ill-advised,” but not criminal. An arbitrator then ruled Abel should get his job back.

Afterward, Harper called the ruling “unbelievable.”

“How can we maintain the trust of the public when we can’t terminate someone when excessive force is used,” he said.

Attorney Bryan Campbell, who represents the FOP, said it might appear that discipline is not meted out equally but that’s not the case. The officers in the Miles case are an aberration. The only reason they’ve been on leave that long is the Feds have not acted. A Civil Rights complaint was filed, and in this case the U.S. Department of Justice investigated. They do not always do so.

“Administrative leave is usually a period of weeks for say an officer-involved in a shooting,” said Campbell. “The Miles case, nothing like that has ever happened before. ”

If an officer is convicted of a crime for which the penalty is more than one year in jail, the officer will lose his certification, and would have to be terminated, said Campbell.

Abel was not convicted. Walker, who postponed his trial, could also get his job back if not convicted. The same is true of the other officers.

“OMI determines what discipline an officer will face, right now they are not being disciplined, they are on leave,” he said.

In cases where charges are not filed, and an officer is just messing up, there is a progression of discipline that can result in termination. For the first offense and officer gets counseling; second offense, an “oral” reprimand that stays on the record for one year; third offense, written reprimand that stays on the record two years; fourth offense, one-day suspension that stays on the record five years; fifth offense, three-days suspension, and finally a five-day suspension pending termination.

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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