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DA Zappala has many questions, concerns about police vs. Pagans bar brawl

November 14, 2018

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Thursday he has questions and concerns regarding a brawl between members of a motorcycle club and undercover Pittsburgh police officers at a South Side bar this month.

He did not rule out the possibility of a federal civil rights investigation.

Zappala said that he has yet to be told for certain that the officers were, in fact, working an undercover detail.

“I don’t know that they’re undercover. I don’t know why they’re in the bar,” he said. “We haven’t heard from their supervisor that they were on duty. We haven’t heard from the supervisor who the target was -- if there was, in fact, a target.”

The brawl inside Kopy’s bar between the officers and four members of the Pagan motorcycle club early Oct. 12 sent four men to jail with charges of aggravated assault and riot. A criminal complaint filed in the case alleged one of the suspects shoved an officer.

Security footage from inside the bar shows Frank Deluca, the man who allegedly initiated the fight, being pinned up against the bar by one officer while another punches him in the head and face more than a dozen times.

“We had an issue on the South Side involving an off-duty detail a couple years ago ... and there were strikes to somebody’s head,” Zappala said. “I said back then I have a problem with it. You’re not talking about controlling a situation; you’re talking about trying to hurt somebody.”

That incident, on May 7, 2017, included bystander video that appeared to show Pittsburgh police Officer Raymond Toomey kicking a man in the face as he lay on the ground. Toomey has since retired from the department.

Zappala said he spoke with U.S. Attorney Scott Brady about the incident Wednesday, but did not say whether he believes a federal civil rights investigation should be opened.

“Controlling the situation and trying to hurt somebody are two entirely different things,” he said.

Defense attorneys for the men involved in the Kopy’s fight have suggested that the undercover officers were intoxicated and aggravated. Lee Rothman, an attorney for Deluca, said the security footage shows one officer having at least four drinks in one hour.

“They shouldn’t be drinking at all, and I don’t know that they were,” Zappala said.

He said he received most of the security and video footage Thursday morning and had not yet had a chance to review it. He said when officers are undercover in a bar or similar setting, they’ll often take the alcoholic beverage that they were poured to the bathroom with them, dump it, and then return with water.

Zappala said there is also body camera footage captured by cameras on the uniformed officers who were on scene moments after the fight broke out. He said police have not handed over that footage yet, and he is not sure why he hasn’t received it.

He said questions remain as to whether the Pagans knew the officers were law enforcement, something he hopes to glean from the body camera footage since the security footage does not have audio.

“I heard the story from the officers as to why they did what they did,” he said. “I’d rather see it for myself in its entirety.”

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