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Pittsburgh police lost video critical to defense of fired officer, attorney says

October 3, 2018

An attorney representing a Pittsburgh police officer charged last year with obstructing an investigation into another officer has requested a hearing to determine why the city cannot produce a video that he said was crucial to the defense.

Downtown attorney William Diffenderfer alleges that police claim the video from an officer’s body camera was recorded over and erased. Diffenderfer requested a hearing before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Mark V. Tranquilli to find out “under oath” what happened to it, according to a motion filed on behalf of Officer Kaelen O’Connor.

A spokesman for the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department declined to comment.

The motion alleges that if the video was taped over, it was done intentionally to “cover up exculpatory evidence,” but Diffenderfer told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday he is unsure what happened to it.

“I find it extremely suspicious that it is missing, but they might have a very good explanation for it,” he said. “On the other hand, I still think I might get it. If they’re claiming that it’s not here, I want to know how that happened.”

The case centers on Officer Robert Kramer, 29, acquitted last month of charges that he pulled a gun on a motorist during a fit of road rage in Pittsburgh’s Sheraden neighborhood. He was off-duty at the time.

Police charged O’Connor, who investigated, with obstructing justice and hindering apprehension, alleging he excluded all information about Kramer and listed the suspect as “unknown” in a police report. Diffenderfer denied the allegations.

“There’s not one false statement that he put in that report,” Diffenderfer said.

Pittsburgh police previously terminated both officers.

Diffenderfer said Jesse Smith, the alleged road rage victim, during an unrelated police incident in May threatened to report Officer James Votash to police internal affairs “and get him fired, just like he did Officer Kramer and Officer O’Connor.” Smith could not be reached for comment.

Votash recorded the conversation on his body camera and testified during Kramer’s trial that he showed it to supervisors and followed department procedure in filing it but could find no record of it afterward, according to Diffenderfer.

“I find it disturbing and outrageous that the video is missing, especially when it’s a critical component to these officers’ cases,” said Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1.

Swartzwelder said he plans to seek reinstatement for Kramer with full back pay and benefits and would do the same for O’Connor if his case is dismissed.

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