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McKeesport man sentenced 18-36 months in state prison for officer's injuries

| Thursday, June 19, 2014, 4:21 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Shortly after a preliminary hearing in June, Gordon Brown revisited his McKeesport residence to make repairs months after a structure fire during which police Lt. Joe Lopretto was injured in a fall.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony M. Mariani delivered what he called a “very stern sentence” on Wednesday, when he ordered Gordon Brown to serve 18-36 months in state prison on charges stemming from a McKeesport police lieutenant's injuries during a fire at Brown's home.

Brown, 43, had been in the county jail since March 26, when Mariani found him guilty of recklessly endangering another person, obstructing the administration of law or government, and disorderly conduct in connection with injuries Lt. Joe Lopretto sustained during a 2013 fire at Brown's home in the 400 block of Long Run Road. He was acquitted of a felony aggravated assault charge.

Lopretto was diagnosed with a severe concussion as a result of his head striking the property's deck during a fall that occurred as he chased Brown, who had entered the structure's rear apartment through a window.

“After the fall, I lost my speech for approximately three months and then I had stuttered speech for another three to four months before my speech got back to almost normal,” Lopretto testified during the sentencing. “I have a constant headache every day ... I'm on several medications to ease the pain, but to this day it hasn't helped.”

While Mariani said he believes Brown did not intend for Lopretto to be injured, the defendant willingly put himself, police officers and firefighters in a “chaotic, dangerous” situation.

“It may not have been intentional to cause the injury,” Mariani told Brown. “But it was intentional to disobey the direct orders of law enforcement in a very dangerous public scene.”

With consideration of Brown's criminal record, including past charges of reckless endangerment and fleeing or eluding authorities, Mariani sentenced him to 12-24 months for recklessly endangering another person and 6-12 months for obstruction, with the terms to be served consecutively. The disorderly conduct charge did not add time to the sentence.

“It seems that this behavior is a pattern of dangerous conduct,” Assistant District Attorney Julie Koren said, asking the judge to consider a maximum sentence.

Mariani finished Koren's sentence, adding “and not following police instructions.”

Brown apologized for his actions on the date of the fire and his conduct in court. He said he is “very sorry” that Lopretto is unable to work as a result of his behavior.

“What I saw at that time was a panic situation,” Brown said. “My home was on fire.”

Brown's demeanor changed when Mariani's decision was made. Leaving the courtroom, he told his mother-in-law Katie Kearney to “get a good attorney and call the news media.” He has 30 days to appeal Mariani's decision.

Kearney, who testified that Brown has learned his lesson during the past two months in jail, declined comment after Brown's sentence was delivered. She asked the judge to consider the welfare of Brown's children — Robert Brown, 19, and Gary Brown, 9, — who will miss their father if he is imprisoned.

Mariani said Brown's conduct caused severe, measurable harm to Lopretto and the McKeesport community.

“People have to know that when an officer gives them a command, they have to follow it, whether they like it or not,” Mariani said.

Lopretto said the judge was fair with Brown's sentencing, noting the defendant halted his livelihood with one irresponsible act.

“I took pride every day in putting my uniform on and serving the residents of the city (of McKeesport) and the borough of Dravosburg,” Lopretto said. “He took what I loved doing away from me and almost caused a fatal blow to my head.”

McKeesport Detective Joe Osinski testified that the department is different without Lopretto.

“He enjoyed his job, going into the schools and teaching the DARE program to kids,” Osinski said. “He was a fixture in the community ... and our department has come together to help him and see him as much as we can.”

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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