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Allegheny DA Zappala confirms civil rights investigation in Woodland Hills cases

Ben Schmitt
| Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 3:45 p.m.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis released a video to the media from March 3, 2015, that shows an incident inside Woodland Hills High School student involving a then-14-year-old student and Churchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis and Principal Kevin Murray.
Pittsburgh attorney Todd Hollis released a video to the media from March 3, 2015, that shows an incident inside Woodland Hills High School student involving a then-14-year-old student and Churchill Police Officer Steve Shaulis and Principal Kevin Murray.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Wednesday that arrest tactics by a police officer assigned to Woodland Hills High School could have civil rights implications.

Still, attorney Todd Hollis said his clients, shown on videos in altercations with Churchill Police officer Steven Shaulis, haven't been contacted by investigators. Hollis said he's intrigued about how authorities acted promptly in a new case involving an employee at the at the Rankin Promise alternative school in the Woodland Hills School District. In that case, Ranking Promise behavioral specialist Joseph Golden III, 50, of Verona is charged with assaulting a 13-year-old student.

Hollis pointed out that Golden is black and Shaulis is white.

"You've got an African American teacher in one instance who assaulted a child and by every right that person should be prosecuted and held responsible," Hollis said. "And then you have a Caucasian administrator and a police officer who are not charged."

Hollis was referring to videos from Woodland Hills High School surveillance cameras that showed the arrests of two black students by Shaulis and an audiotape of high school Principal Kevin Murray threatening a student.

In a video from April 3, Churchill officer Steve Shaulis, a school resource officer, can be seen dragging Que'chawn Wade, 14, into the school's main office lobby before fighting with him off camera and knocking out one of the teen's teeth, Hollis said. Wade faces a resisting arrest charge in juvenile court.

Video from a March 2015 incident that surfaced last week shows Shaulis putting Ahmad Williams Jr., then 15, in a headlock, slamming him to the ground and shocking him twice with a Taser.

Murray is shown in the footage helping to hold the teen down during the arrest for disorderly conduct. A judge acquitted Williams of resisting arrest after the tape was played at trial.

Zappala said the civil rights angle makes the investigation into Shaulis different. The FBI and U.S. Attorney's office are involved in investigating whether Shaulis violated the students' civil rights.

"It's a different type of matter involving a police officer and whether or not excessive force was used to effectuate an arrest," Zappala said.

Regarding Golden, he said, "We received a timely referral on Golden from Rankin PD and the determination was made to charge. And there is a video on that."

Golden is charged with single counts of simple assault and endangering the welfare of children. He turned himself in Tuesday morning and was arraigned and released on his own recognizance. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May 18. He's accused of twice lifting a student by the neck and carrying him along the school's hallway during an April 12 incident.

Last week, Murray sent a letter to parents in the district, signed by teachers, that said "We have to work together through our differences, our stereotypes, and our prejudices to continuously build up this community that allows itself to be torn down all too often."

Administrators placed Murray on leave Nov. 30 after an audio tape of him threatening a special-education student surfaced. Murray did not report to the school for about six weeks while the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office investigated. In a letter to school officials, Zappala Jr. called Murray's actions "inappropriate and arguably threatening," but he did not recommend criminal charges against Murray.

Hollis said he's interviewing two more students who have come forward with allegations against Shaulis.

"This is sincerely a cultural problem that has gone on at the school district that didn't just happen in the past two years," he said. "Not one of my clients have gotten a call from any of the administration at Woodland Hills to say 'I'm sorry.' To say 'Do you need counseling?' To say "is there anything that we can do to make this situation better?'"

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @Bencschmitt.

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