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Charges dismissed against former Springdale police officer

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Erica Hilliard, staff photographer
Former Springdale police officer Jeremy Liotta.

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Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013, 3:57 p.m.
 

A former Springdale police officer was cleared of virtually all charges against him stemming from a traffic stop in Harmar on May 17.

At a preliminary hearing Wednesday, Plum District Judge Linda Zucco dismissed charges of theft and impersonating a police officer against Jeremy Liotta, 27, of Duquesne Court, Spring-dale. Zucco heard the case because Harmar District Judge David J. Sosovicka recused himself due to his familiarity with Harmar and Springdale police.

Just before the hearing, Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Robert Heister withdrew two drug-related charges against Liotta.

Lab tests showed the white powder Harmar police say they found in a search of Liotta's car was a common diabetes medicine for which Liotta has a prescription, Heister said.

Liotta agreed to have the car checked without police getting a warrant. A police dog called to the scene didn't find any illegal drugs.

Liotta was charged with theft after Harmar police found a Springdale police badge in Liotta's car during the search. At the time, he no longer was a police officer.

Harmar Officer Michael Kirchner said he charged Liotta with impersonating an officer because of what happened during the first moments of the traffic stop.

“He identified himself as a Springdale officer,” Kirchner testified. “Then he corrected himself and said he had been an officer there.”

Defense attorney Duke George asked Kirchner how long it was before Liotta corrected himself by saying he was an ex-Springdale officer.

“He corrected it momentarily,” Kirchner testified.“Was he wearing a police uniform, did he wear a gun, and did he present the badge?” George asked.

Kirchner replied no each time.

During the hearing, Liotta and retired police Springdale Chief Joseph P. Naviglia said Liotta turned in two borough-issued badges and other gear when he resigned.

Harmar Officer Steffan Shaw, who was backing up Kirchner on the traffic stop, said he talked with Liotta while the car was searched. He said Liotta said he had turned in two borough-issued badges, but he kept the one he bought himself with his name on it.George asked Naviglia if he has any badges from his days at Springdale. Naviglia replied that he did.

Kirchner testified he only saw the badge because it was found inside a gym bag during the search of Liotta's car.

“You found a badge. He never took it out of the bag, did he?” George asked.

Kirchner said no.

Heister, the prosecutor, acknowledged that Liotta's possession of the badge was not theft of borough property.

On the impersonation issue, Heister argued that Liotta corrected himself because he feared the misstatement would be discovered.

“It's not unusual for officers to keep memorabilia,” Heister said, “but they don't usually carry it around with them.”

Zucco dismissed both charges.

Kirchner said he pulled over Liotta's car because he saw a suspended license sticker. A check showed that Liotta also didn't have car insurance at the time.He pleaded guilty to driving with expired insurance and registration.

Heister, in exchange, withdrew other summary charges.

Outside the courtroom, Liotta said he was vindicated.

“I don't use drugs. I never have. I only had medicine that was prescribed for me. There were trumped-up charges. I resigned. I wasn't fired.

“I've been found not guilty,” Liotta said. “I'm ready to get back into police work.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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