Feds seek prison for con­victed city po­lice sergeant

Matakovich to be sen­tenced to­day

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Local news - By Paula Reed Ward

Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

Re­cent fil­ings in the fed­eral crim­i­nal case against for­mer Pitts­burgh po­lice Sgt. Stephen Matakovich paint dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent por­traits of the man who will be sen­tenced Wed­nes­day for us­ing ex­ces­sive force on a teenager.

The de­fense shared sto­ries of the sergeant us­ing his own money to buy a bike for a boy who had his stolen, and for a home­less man to have a place to stay on a frigid night. A man who strove to cre­ate a sense of fam­ily among the of­fi­cers he su­per­vised. A man who ded­i­cated him­self to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in his com­mu­nity.

But pros­e­cu­tors coun­tered those claims, writ­ing that Matakovich has “gen­er­ally a track record of uti­liz­ing a high level of force.”

Cit­ing his dis­ci­plinary his­tory — and de­tails of the crime for which Matakovich will be sen­tenced — the U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fice be­lieves he should go to prison. The stan­dard range in fed­eral sen­tenc­ing guide­lines is 27 to 33 months.

The de­fense is ask­ing U.S. District Judge Cathy Bis­soon for pro­ba­tion.

A jury con­victed Matakovich, 48, in May of vi­o­lat­ing the civil rights of Gabriel De­spres, then 19, say­ing he used ex­ces­sive force on him out­side Heinz Field dur­ing high school football play­offs in 2015. The jury found Matakovich not guilty of a charge of fal­si­fy­ing re­ports.

“De­spite the fact that the de­fen­dant was re­quired as a po­lice of­fi­cer to pro­tect each cit­i­zen and re­spect ev­ery in­di­vid­ual’s con­sti­tu­tional rights, the ev­i­dence in­di­cates that the de­fen­dant acted out of frus­tra­tion and anger and will­fully used ex­ces­sive force against the vic­tim,” the gov­ern­ment wrote in a sen­tenc­ing brief.

“Un­like so many de­fen­dants who come be­fore this court, the de­fen­dant, by his own ac­count, had a good child­hood. Fur­ther set­ting the de­fen­dant apart, he had the op­por­tu­nity to pur­sue a re­spected ca­reer, and he had ev­ery chance at suc­cess in life.”

“De­spite all of these ad­van­tages, the de­fen­dant abused the

po­si­tion of trust he held and, in con­trast to the hun­dreds of po­lice of­fi­cers hon­or­ably serv­ing Pitts­burgh on a daily ba­sis, the de­fen­dant mis­used the con­sid­er­able pow­ers he had been given as an of­fi­cer of the law. More­over, the de­fen­dant’s em­ploy­ment his­tory has not been with­out in­ci­dent.”

In an ad­di­tional sen­tenc­ing brief filed Sun­day by the U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fice, pros­e­cu­tors wrote that Matakovich­has a lengthy dis­ci­plinary his­tory with the city’s Of­fice of Mu­nic­i­pal In­ves­ti­ga­tions, which ac­cu­mu­lated 34 com­plaints against the for­mer sergeant, in­clud­ing 11 sep­a­rate cit­i­zen com­plaints for ex­ces­sive use of force.

Three of those com­plaints, pros­e­cu­tors wrote, were sus­tained: The first from 1997, when Matakovich was ac­cused of falsely ar­rest­ing a per­son, and the sec­ond in 2008, when Matakovich was ac­cused of us­ing ex­ces­sive force and was found to have vi­o­lated the rule reg­u­lat­ing con­duct to­ward the public.

The third sus­tained com­plaint, the U.S. At­tor­ney’s of­fice wrote, was in 2013, when Matakovich was ac­cused of us­ing a Taser on some­one with­out cause. He was ex­on­er­ated for the use of force, the brief con­tin­ued, but cited for fail­ing to prop­erly re­port the use of his Taser.

Fur­ther, the pros­e­cu­tion con­tin­ued, a re­view of 56 sub­ject-re­sis­tance re­ports filed by Matakovich since 2011 found that he never used the low­est amount of force avail­able, forcible hand­cuff­ing, while his most com­mon use of force was found to be strikesto the face and head.

Of the 56 re­ports, the memo con­tin­ued, 20 in­volved strikes to the head and face, with 17 of those re­sult­ing in in­juries such as a bro­ken nose, jaw, or be­ing knocked un­con­scious.

And in 2010, Matakovich was or­dered to un­dergo re­train­ing “to specif­i­cally ‘ad­dress punches to the face,’” pros­e­cu­tors wrote, al­though after Matakovich pro­vided ad­di­tional de­tails about the in­ci­dents to jus­tify his use of force, no re­train­ing was nec­es­sary.

“Per­haps the worst of all of the de­fen­dant’s egre­gious con­duct is that he falsely charged [De­spres] with a se­ri­ous, vi­o­lent felony of­fense, ar­guably in an ef­fort to ob­tain the vic­tim’s si­lence by ob­tain­ing a guilty plea through a deal which would al­low the vic­tim to avoid the life-al­ter­ing con­se­quences of a vi­o­lent, felony con­vic­tion against a po­lice of­fi­cer,” pros­e­cu­tors wrote.

But in her fil­ing last week, de­fense at­tor­ney Tina O. Miller high­lighted a num­ber of in­ci­dents in which Matakovich went out of his way to help those in need and de­scribed him as a ded­i­cated of­fi­cer.

She in­cluded char­ac­ter state­ments from friends, fam­ily and for­mer col­leagues. She added anec­dotes about how Matakovich, as a high school stu­dent, car­ried fel­low stu­dents and their wheel­chairs up­stairs be­cause his school had no el­e­va­tor; and while as a po­lice of­fi­cer he be­came af­fec­tion­ately known by those in his pa­trol area as “Sgt. Steve.”

“Mr. Matakovich viewed be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer as an op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence, to make Pitts­burgh and his com­mu­nity safe and to help any­one in need,” Ms. Miller wrote.

In ask­ing the court for pro­ba­tion, she said her client had al­ready in­curred “sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quences as a re­sult of his con­duct.”

“Pro­fes­sion­ally, he has lost his job but more pro­foundly, he has lost the abil­ity to carry out his dream of be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer after 22 years of serv­ing the Pitts­burgh com­mu­nity,” she wrote.

She added that he also had ex­pe­ri­enced “tremen­dous hu­mil­i­a­tion and dev­as­ta­tion that comes with that loss.”

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