Pagan involved in Pittsburgh brawl with police sues city, 3 officers
A federal lawsuit alleges that undercover Pittsburgh police officers provoked a “police riot” between officers and members of the Pagans motorcycle club last month, and the city’s failure to properly investigate misconduct by its officers is partly to blame.
Frank Deluca, who was shown in widely circulated security footage from inside a South Side bar being repeatedly punched in the head by police, filed the lawsuit against the city and Pittsburgh detectives Brian Burgunder, David Honick and David Lincoln.
Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri declined comment, citing the ongoing investigation and litigation.
The brawl happened early Oct. 12 and ended with four members of the motorcycle club in jail. The District Attorney’s Office withdrew all charges against the men. The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizens Police Review Board are investigating. The FBI is investigating whether there were any civil rights violations on the part of the officers.
The lawsuit claims the city encouraged such behavior with its “failure to investigate and punish prior allegations” of consuming alcohol on duty, excessive force, malicious prosecution and false imprisonment made against the officers involved in the Oct. 12 incident and other officers.
Since 2012, the city has paid out $200,000 to settle three civil lawsuits naming Honick as a defendant: $10,000 in 2012, $115,000 in 2014 and $75,000 in 2015. The information comes from eight years of annual reports from the Department of Public Safety.
Mayor Bill Peduto said any pattern of misconduct will be looked at separately from the Oct. 12 incident at the South Side bar Kopy’s.
“This will be first looked at as the incident that occurred on the South Side and what discipline should be made with the officers there, and then, second, we’ll look at each officer going back into their history and then finding out,” Peduto said.
“Once the investigation (by) OMI is completed with this one, we’ll be looking at each of those officers, any past histories, and obviously make discipline decisions based on the facts,” he said.
He said he is aware of past cases involving Honick but “the specifics of it I was not given by the police chief yet.”
Deluca’s attorney, James DePasquale, alleged in the lawsuit that the three defendants plus a fourth officer, Brian Martin, arrived at Kopy’s on South 12th Street at about 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 and “began consuming alcohol … and did so continuously and copiously” for the next five hours.
Police have said the four undercover detectives were investigating a drug complaint at the bar. Bartender and owner Stephen Kopy has said the officers identified themselves as construction workers when they arrived.
Deluca and five others arrived at the bar at about 11:40 p.m., and the lawsuit claims they were “sober, and acting in a law abiding manner.”
They went to the rear of the bar to play pool and drink, but the officers took notice of them and became agitated toward them, “especially Defendant Honick, who was extremely intoxicated,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends that the officers eventually identified themselves as such to the bartender, but not to Deluca or his companions, who said the officers appeared to be “four drunks in a saloon who were beginning to become obnoxious in demeanor for no known reason other than their visible intoxication.”
Two of Deluca’s companions left, at which point the officers positioned themselves between the Pagans and the bar’s exit, according to the lawsuit. It claims the officers impeded the remaining Pagans’ from leaving, and that Honick repeatedly lifted his shirt to show a handgun in his waistband.
At about 12:40 a.m., Deluca “was provoked by the intimidation and exit-blocking” and pushed Honick, allegedly still unaware that the men were on-duty police officers. That sparked a “police riot,” according the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleged that uniformed officers arrived and Burgunder held onto Deluca’s hair and arms while Honick and Lincoln punched him in the head and face. Deluca said in the lawsuit that he suffered head and facial trauma and a dislocated elbow.
The lawsuit seeks to recoup money for medical bills, lost wages and attorney fees, as well as punitive damages against the officers.
Staff writer Bob Bauder contributed. Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.