Police Chief Feels Heat From Peers
CARNEGIE, Pa. (AP) _ The police chief believes officers in neighboring towns are retaliating against his department over his decision to give prosecutors a videotape of a motorist’s fight with state police.
Carnegie Police Chief Jeff Harbin says officers in other Pittsburgh suburbs are interfering with radio calls and threatening to refuse to back up Carnegie officers in an emergency.
Harbin expected that police would label him a traitor for handing over the videotape to Allegheny County prosecutors, and he said the bad blood hasn’t caused tangible harm. But the reaction is unnerving, Harbin said.
``That’s the kind of mindset that needs to be changed,″ Harbin said. ``Attitudes haven’t changed since I started 22 years ago.″
The case began last Dec. 26. Evan Gross of Johnstown was arrested after leading police on a chase through two counties at more than 100 mph.
Carnegie Officer Curt Cook saw Gross’s car and switched on his emergency lights, triggering a video camera mounted on his cruiser.
Gross followed Cook’s shouted orders to exit the car and get on the ground as state police arrived. The videotape shows that troopers swarmed Gross, and Trooper James Boyd punched and kicked him.
Two other troopers, Richard Swank and John LaRoche, wrote in an arrest affidavit that Gross tried to run, resisted arrest and elbowed an officer in the face. The tape does not show that.
A county grand jury determined that Boyd wasn’t too rough on Gross, but it recommended that Swank and LaRoche be prosecuted for lying in the affidavit. District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. declined because he didn’t believe he had enough evidence to convict them.
Harbin said he gave the tape to prosecutors so Gross wouldn’t be convicted of resisting arrest and assault.
``I couldn’t let the man go to jail for something I knew he didn’t do,″ Harbin said. Cook declined to comment because he may testify in Gross’s trial for the traffic violations in December.
Since the arrest, Cook’s transmissions on his police radio often have been drowned out by officers in surrounding departments who clicked buttons on their radios to create static, Harbin said.
Cook hasn’t been stranded in danger, but the deliberate static could have prevented him from being heard if he had, Harbin said.
James McIntyre, police chief in nearby Heidelberg, confirmed that there was talk in the area that Carnegie officers would be on their own if they needed help. McIntyre said he told his officers to back up any officer who needs help whether or not they like him.