DA: Pittsburgh drug case should be tossed
A review of cases filed by two Pittsburgh police officers accused of lying in arrest reports turned up at least one conviction that should be tossed out, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Tuesday.
“I believe the case should be reversed,” Zappala said. “The charges should be withdrawn.”
Prosecutors are reviewing cases that Officers Ken Simon and Anthony Scarpine were involved with. Zappala’s office on Friday accused them of fabricating charges and wrongfully arresting two men during a July drug bust in the North Side. The DA’s office filed the charges after video surveillance contradicted the officers’ account of what happened.
County authorities have charged four current and one former law enforcement officers with crimes in the past week, including two jail guards accused of beating an inmate. Yesterday, Zappala’s office arrested former McKeesport police Officer Vernon Andrews, 36, who resigned before being charged with making a copy of a woman’s house key and entering her home without her consent.
Zappala said the charges are not indicative of a widespread problem and outlined safeguards that are in place to catch bad cops.
“There’s no indication we have a systematic problem; it’s to the contrary, most of the officers do the right thing,” he said. “This is more of an aberration.”
Zappala did not say what actions his office would take in the questionable case it discovered.
It involves James Moore, 51, of Braddock who was convicted by a jury in October of drug dealing. Simon was the arresting officer. Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman is scheduled to sentence Moore on Jan. 11. He is free on bond.
Simon wrote in an affidavit that he witnessed Moore sell prescription pills to another man for $20. When the buyer saw Simon, he popped the pills in his mouth and ran. Simon reported he found money and 69 anti-anxiety pills in a prescription bottle in Moore’s pockets.
The jury acquitted Moore of two of the three drug charges. His attorney did not return a call for comment. Moore could not be reached.
Simon declined comment about Moore’s case. His attorney, Bill Difenderfer, said Simon “absolutely” stands by his arrests.
James Wymard, Scarpine’s attorney, said his client stands by his arrests.
Police Chief Nate Harper put both officers on paid leave when they were charged and is considering disciplinary action.
“We are working very closely with the DA’s office,” Harper said.
City police used to have an internal “integrity squad” that investigated officers looking for corruption but it “went by the wayside” because of budget cuts, Harper said. The city relies on its Office of Municipal Investigations and outside agencies.
“We have asked the FBI, for example, to assist us in doing some integrity checks,” Harper said.
Zappala said investigators from his office and federal authorities review wiretaps from investigations to see whether any officers’ or elected officials’ names turn up. The FBI investigates tips and complaints it receives from a public corruption hot line.
The charges against Simon and Scarpine and the resulting review of cases are likely to bring requests for new trials in cases the officers handled, attorneys said.
The county Public Defender’s Office also is examining cases.
The officers were very active, but rarely were they the only officers listed in cases, said Assistant Public Defender Patrick Sweeney, who has dozens of clients who were charged by either Scarpine or Simon.
“Scarpine and Simon, almost as much, are kind of notorious because we’ve had so many clients who claim what they say isn’t true,” Sweeney said.
“A lot of times it comes down to their word against that of a defendant, and their word is usually gold. The only reason there’s any scrutiny being assigned to these guys is because there was a video,” he said.
Simon is listed as the charging officer in at least five open criminal cases this year, and Scarpine in at least 60 cases this year, court records show.
Cashman yesterday denied a new trial for Alonzo Johnson, 39, who claimed that his nonjury conviction on drug charges was based in part on testimony from Scarpine. Johnson’s attorney, Leslie Perlow, said Scarpine’s testimony was inconsistent with other officers’ testimony.