Attorney says ex-Pittsburgh police officer sent client ‘bizarre’ messages
A Pittsburgh police officer who resigned Monday sent a series of unsolicited phone and text messages to a woman after charging her in March with drunken driving, according to the woman’s attorney.
Attorney Allison Reynolds said former Officer Souroth Chatterji’s behavior toward her client Leanne Santiago, 38, of Lawrenceville was “bizarre” and “completely inappropriate.”
Reynolds said some of the messages were related to police business but others were not.
Chatterji’s attorney, Alec B. Wright, called the allegations “utterly baseless.”
“(Chatterji’s) contact and behavior in this case is really questionable,” Reynolds said. “He started contacting her via text message, phone and FaceTime. This was before she had counsel, and he knew it was inappropriate.”
She declined to describe the content of the messages but said Chatterji wished Santiago a happy Easter in one of them.
Wright said Pittsburgh police investigated and found no evidence of wrongdoing. Police Chief Scott Schubert and Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich declined comment, citing an internal investigation.
“I have seen the text messages,” Wright said. “They’re utterly baseless.”
Chatterji, 33, in February filed a federal whistleblower lawsuit against Pittsburgh, alleging police brass harassed and threatened him over a controversial investigation into a Plum computer software company. City officials have denied the allegations.
Mayor Bill Peduto said he was unaware of the complaint against Chatterji but said officers should not contact suspects outside of police business.
“It would never be appropriate for an officer to contact a suspect in any manner outside of an investigation,” he said.
Beth Pittinger, who heads the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, said the messages could be viewed as official oppression, witness tampering or stalking.
“It would certainly qualify as an unbecoming conduct because that lady is going to lose her confidence in the Bureau of Police,” she said.
Chatterji resigned Monday without giving a reason, but he appeared Tuesday for Santiago’s preliminary hearing on the drunken driving charge in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
Reynolds said Chatterji’s resignation came days after she delivered copies of his messages to the Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations, which investigates complaints against city employees. Reynolds said she filed a complaint with OMI because of the messages.
Chatterji charged Santiago on March 2 with drunken driving, aggravated assault, impersonating a federal police officer and careless driving. He later withdrew the assault and impersonation charges.
According to a criminal complaint, Santiago failed to stop at a traffic signal near Market Square, Downtown, and nearly struck several children. Chatterji charged her after she failed a field sobriety test, according to the complaint. She allegedly told him that she was a federal police officer and later kicked another city police officer.
Santiago waived her right to a hearing Tuesday and her case will proceed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].