Re­port: Po­lice union head hin­dered in­ves­ti­ga­tions

Grand jury stud­ied pair of shoot­ings by of­fi­cers

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - Front Page - By Shelly Brad­bury

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by an Al­legheny County grand jury found that Pitts­burgh po­lice failed to con­duct thor­ough and trans­par­ent crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter two of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings in 2017 and said the po­lice union pres­i­dent tried to block in­ves­ti­ga­tors, ac­cord­ing to a scathing re­port made pub­lic Fri­day.

The grand jury said in its 46page re­port that Robert Swartzwelder, Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 pres­i­dent, acted with “de­lib­er­ate malfea­sance” and “ut­ter dis­re­gard” for the poli­cies and eth­i­cal stan­dards of the po­lice bureau fol­low­ing the Jan. 22, 2017, fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing of a Larimer home­owner, as well as af­ter a non-fa­tal of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ing in East Lib­erty in April 2017.

The union stopped in­ves­ti­ga­tors from gath­er­ing ev­i­dence af­ter those shoot­ings, the grand jury found, and such con­duct led to the “ap­pear­ance of im­pro­pri­ety” and what ap­peared to be a cover-up in­volv­ing sev­eral of­fi­cers, the re­port said.

“How­ever, our in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that this lack of co­op­er­a­tion was ac­tu­ally or­ches­trated by FOP Pres­i­dent Swartzwelder, who fought at ev­ery stage to en­sure those tasked with over­see­ing the

in­ves­ti­ga­tion would not be pro­vided with all the facts and ev­i­dence nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine whether the of­fi­cers were jus­ti­fied in their ac­tions,” the grand jury wrote. “His ef­forts were ef­fec­tive, in part, be­cause the com­mand staff from the city po­lice ac­qui­esced to many of Swartzwelder’s de­mands and did not en­force long­stand­ing poli­cies on con­duct­ing crit­i­cal in­ci­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

The grand jury found that po­lice com­mand staff al­lowed Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder to use “heavy-handed tac­tics” to dic­tate po­lice pro­ce­dure. It said the “loose man­ner” in which com­mand staff su­per­vised the crit­i­cal in­ci­dents pre­vented the grand jury from bring­ing crim­i­nal charges against Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder.

“While we find the ac­tions of Robert Swartzwelder fall short of mer­it­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion of crim­i­nal charges, we so find only be­cause no one with any au­thor­ity told him to stand down when they should have,” the re­port states. “We can­not al­lege that he ob­structed the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice where those who are tasked with en­forc­ing the law did not act on their au­thor­ity.”

The grand jury did not rec­om­mend crim­i­nal charges against Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder or any­one else in the po­lice bureau. It also found that the of­fi­cers in­volved in the fa­tal shoot­ing in Larimer acted within the law.

The grand jury did rec­om­mend that Pitts­burgh po­lice bring in Al­legheny County po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings (which the city be­gan do­ing in 2017), that it take pains to dis­sem­i­nate new poli­cies in a timely man­ner, that com­mand staff meet reg­u­larly with union lead­ers and that all of­fi­cers re­ceive train­ing on their Mi­randa rights (warn­ings to those be­ing ques­tioned by law en­force­ment about their rights) and their Gar­rity rights (warn­ings given to gov­ern­ment em­ploy­ees who may be sub­ject to an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion).

The Pitts­burgh Po­lice Bureau re­sponded in a writ­ten state­ment that it holds mem­bers to the “high­est stan­dards of pro­fes­sion­al­ism” while also en­sur­ing the con­sti­tu­tional rights of of­fi­cers in­volved in crit­i­cal in­ci­dents.

The bureau pointed out that many of the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions have al­ready been im­ple­mented and said other rec­om­men­da­tions “are ei­ther not di­rected to the bureau or are con­fus­ing or vague.”

Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder and the FOP wrote in a re­sponse to the grand jury re­port that “sev­eral of the fac­tual claims” in the re­port “are not ac­cu­rate.” Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder de­clined to com­ment fur­ther Fri­day.

The FOP re­sponse said union of­fi­cials “strongly ob­ject to the re­port’s con­clu­sions re­gard­ing the im­pro­pri­ety of Swartzwelder’s con­duct” at the var­i­ous in­ci­dents, and said he was do­ing his job as union pres­i­dent and pro­tect­ing the rights of po­lice of­fi­cers.

“He rep­re­sents the rank and file po­lice of­fi­cers,” the re­sponse reads. “His job is not to rep­re­sent the city. His job is not to help the dis­trict at­tor­ney pros­e­cute po­lice. Nor is his job to be overly con­cerned about the pub­lic re­la­tions as­pect of how the ad­vice given to his mem­bers by union reps and union at­tor­neys might play in the me­dia.”

Mayor Bill Pe­duto said in a state­ment Fri­day that the city co­op­er­ated fully with the grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and em­pha­sized that Al­legheny County po­lice have, since

De­cem­ber 2017, in­ves­ti­gated the city’s of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings as part of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the city.

“Claims in the grand jury’s re­port about po­lice bureau com­mand staff ‘pas­siv­ity’ at crit­i­cal in­ci­dent scenes be­fore the MOU was im­ple­mented — when the in­ves­ti­ga­tions were then over­seen by the Al­legheny County Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s of­fice — are ad­dressed in the bureau’s an­swer to the re­port,” Mr. Pe­duto said in the state­ment. “It must be noted that at any time the su­per­vis­ing de­tec­tives from the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice could have in­ter­vened to stop the FOP pres­i­dent’s in­ter­fer­ence at the scenes, but did not do so.”

The grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan af­ter the Jan. 22, 2017, shoot­ing of Christo­pher Mark Thomp­kins, 57, who was killed in­side his house by of­fi­cers re­spond­ing to a se­cu­rity sys­tem alarm.

Mr. Thomp­kins’ ex-wife, Brenda Rich­mond, who was with him dur­ing the in­ci­dent, said he grabbed her gun and chased away an in­truder, later iden­ti­fied as Juan Jeter-Clark, by fir­ing shots down the stairs. Po­lice said Mr. Thomp­kins was “fir­ing in their di­rec­tion” when of­fi­cers ar­rived.

A spokesman for Dis­trict At­tor­ney Stephen A. Zap­pala Jr. de­clined to com­ment on the re­port Fri­day, call­ing it “self-ex­plana­tory.”

Mr. Zap­pala pre­vi­ously ac­cused po­lice of hin­der­ing his in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the in­ci­dent on Fin­ley Street, say­ing in Septem­ber 2017 that his in­ves­ti­ga­tors were un­able to get quick ac­cess to the crime scene and were stopped from im­me­di­ately in­ter­view­ing the in­volved of­fi­cers.

While the grand jury iden­ti­fied “se­vere de­fi­cien­cies” dur­ing the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Thomp­kins shoot­ing by de­tec­tives J.R. Smith and Scott Evans — for­mer Pitts­burgh homi­cide de­tec­tives who joined the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice — the de­tec­tives them­selves tes­ti­fied that things went smoothly at the scene.

It was only af­ter­ward that problems de­vel­oped “when they re­turned to po­lice head­quar­ters to ob­serve the in­ter­views of the in­volved and wit­ness of­fi­cers.”

The de­tec­tives ex­pected to have brief con­tact with the of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing and to sit in on in­ter­views with wit­ness of­fi­cers. Nei­ther hap­pened.

“Ev­ery­thing seemed to pro­ceed per usual un­til De­tec­tives Smith and Evans in­quired as to when the in­ter­views of of­fi­cers would take place. The de­tec­tives were then told that they would not be par­tic­i­pat­ing in any in­ter­views of of­fi­cers that night, whether it was an in­ter­view of an in­volved, shoot­ing of­fi­cer or merely a wit­ness to the shoot­ing,” the re­port said.

It was later learned that of­fi­cers who were wit­nesses to the shoot­ing had al­ready been in­ter­viewed that night by a city homi­cide de­tec­tive, with a city po­lice sergeant and Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder present, the re­port said.

“This sce­nario flies di­rectly in the face of City Coun­cil’s in­tent in pass­ing the or­di­nance man­dat­ing out­side, in­de­pen­dent su­per­vi­sion of these in­ci­dents,” the re­port said.

“Our in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not re­veal that leav­ing De­tec­tives Smith and Evans out of the wit­ness in­ter­views was an in­ten­tional act by any one mem­ber of the com­mand staff. What fol­lowed, on the other hand, was a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt by the FOP pres­i­dent to im­pede the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and an ut­ter fail­ure by city com­mand staff to do any­thing about it.”

The re­port said Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder be­came an­gry at Sgt. Jim Glick for let­ting the DA’s de­tec­tives re­view body cam­era footage from Of­fi­cer Bren­dan Flicker.

“Swartzwelder ar­gued with Sgt. Glick in the pres­ence of of­fi­cers Flicker and [Har­ri­son] Mad­dox that the video was Pitts­burgh po­lice prop­erty and that representatives from the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice should not be watch­ing it. Sgt. Glick dis­agreed, not­ing that he openly shares ev­i­dence with other law en­force­ment agen­cies and ex­pects that oth­ers do the same for him and the city po­lice force,” the re­port said.

Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder again tried to in­ter­vene, the re­port said, when Sgt. Glick in­di­cated that the DA’s de­tec­tives would be al­lowed to read Mi­randa warn­ings to the of­fi­cers in­volved in the shoot­ing and ask if they wanted to make state­ments, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“Swartzwelder stood up, pro­claimed that the de­tec­tives were not com­ing into the con­fer­ence room, and de­clared that he and Of­fi­cers Flicker and Mad­dox were leav­ing un­less some­body was go­ing to ar­rest the of­fi­cers,” the re­port said. “Sgt. Glick tried in vain to rea­son with the FOP pres­i­dent, ex­plain­ing that the of­fi­cers merely had to lis­ten to the Mi­randa warn­ings and in­voke their right to not give a state­ment, if that was their wish.”

Dur­ing the dis­pute over the body cam­eras, the re­port said Sgt. Glick con­sulted with Deputy Chief Thomas Stan­grecki — then an as­sis­tant chief — who backed him. But when the sergeant sought the help of his su­pe­rior over the Mi­randa warn­ing, there was a dif­fer­ent re­sult and Deputy Chief Stan­grecki “de­cided not to in­ter­vene.”

“He told Sergeant Glick to al­low Of­fi­cers Flicker and Mad­dox to leave al­though they had not yet been con­tacted by the su­per­vis­ing de­tec­tives,” the re­port states.

The re­port said the po­lice com­mand staff “ac­qui­esced to the heavy-handed tac­tics of an off-duty, sub­or­di­nate of­fi­cer.”

Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder be­haved sim­i­larly af­ter a non­fa­tal shoot­ing in East Lib­erty on April 29, 2017, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. In that in­ci­dent, Of­fi­cer Gino Ma­cioce wounded 20-year-old Christo­pher Howard af­ter Howard robbed two women.

Of­fi­cer Ma­cioce was placed in a patrol ve­hi­cle to wait for a re­place­ment firearm, be­cause his would be col­lected as ev­i­dence.

Two DA de­tec­tives were dis­patched to the scene. De­tec­tive Fran Laqua­tra ar­rived and found City As­sis­tant Chief Lavon­nie Bick­er­staff, who said she’d take her to see Of­fi­cer Ma­cioce. But be­fore the pair could get to the patrol ve­hi­cle, they were stopped by Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder, who “emerged from the ve­hi­cle where Of­fi­cer Ma­cioce was seated,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Of­fi­cer Swartzwelder told the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s de­tec­tive that her pres­ence was a vi­o­la­tion of Of­fi­cer Ma­cioce’s con­sti­tu­tional rights.

“Swartzwelder even went so far as to di­rect De­tec­tive Laqua­tra to a side­walk away from the ve­hi­cle where Swartzwelder had de­ter­mined that she would be al­lowed to stand,” the re­port reads.

Robert Swartzwelder

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