Charges dropped against Pagans in bar brawl with undercover cops, FBI investigating |

Charges dropped against Pagans in bar brawl with undercover cops, FBI investigating

Megan Guza

Prosecutors on Wednesday withdrew charges against four members of the Pagans motorcycle club who were accused of being involved in a violent altercation with undercover Pittsburgh police officers last month in Pittsburgh’s South Side.

The FBI is now investigating the incident as well, authorities said.

“The withdrawal of the charges was based on evidentiary reason and issues, and our office reserves the option of refiling,” District Attorney’s Office spokesman Mike Manko said in a statement.

The Oct. 12 brawl between the Pagans and the officers at Kopy’s bar put four men in jail: Frank Deluca, 36, of Greenfield; Michael Zokaites, 38, of Shaler; Erik Heitzenrater, 28, of Hampton; and Bruce Thomas, 61, of Pittsburgh’s Allentown neighborhood. All had been charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy and riot.

After first offering no comment on the District Attorney’s decision via a Facebook post, Public Safety officials said they respect the decision to withdraw the charges with the option to refile later.

The post also confirmed that the FBI is investigating the incident.

“We also prioritize transparency, which is why we asked OMI and the FBI to further investigate this matter,” according to the post. “If it is determined that internal discipline or administrative actions should be taken, such actions will be taken.”

Officials noted that the bureau of police reviews each use of force incident.

Questions arose quickly about the incident once bystander and security video began circulating. The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizens Police Review Board are both investigating the clash.

Police wrote in the criminal complaint against the men that Deluca initiated the fight when he shoved one of the officers, sparking an all-out brawl. Uniformed officers arrived, called by the undercover officers because they’d been outed as police, according to the complaint.

The undercover officers were at the bar investigating a drug complaint, police have said.

Manko praised the uniformed officers who were called to the melee.

“Our office wishes to acknowledge the actions of the uniformed officers who responded to the altercation, doing so in a calm and professional manor despite being faced with a chaotic situation,” he said.

Security footage from inside the bar shows one undercover officer punching Deluca in the head at least a dozen times. Guns were found on two of the Pagans following the brawl. Police have said the men were carrying the firearms legally.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has said he takes issue with the violence on the part of the police.

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

An affidavit written and signed by bar owner Stephen Kopy, who was tending bar that night, contradicts police statements, indicating that the officers had been drinking and picked the fight with the four Pagans.

Kopy wrote in the affidavit that the undercover officers came in about 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and identified themselves as construction workers. They ordered alcoholic drinks, Kopy wrote. The Pagans came in about 11:30 p.m. and sat at the opposite end of the bar.

“On several occasions, the undercover officers called me over and made statements indicating that they had an issue with the bikers at the other side of the bar,” Kopy wrote. “Each time, I discouraged them from taking action.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

Screenshot of video from Kopy's surveillance footage
A screenshot taken from security footage in Kopy’s bar appears to show an undercover Pittsburgh detective punching a member of the Pagan motorcycle club as other officers and Pagans fight in the background on Oct. 12, 2018.
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