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California officer to stand trial

About Jeremy Sellew
California borough police officer Justin Shultz (far left), accompanied by his family, talks with his attorney, Noah Geary Esq. (back), outside of Magisterial District Judge Larry Hopkins' office in Charleroi on Jan. 9, 2013. Shultz will stand trial on charges he assaulted a suspect inside the holding cell of the California borough police station.

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By Jeremy Sellew

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 12:26 a.m.

A California borough police officer accused of assaulting a prisoner will stand trial on charges of official oppression and simple assault.

A preliminary hearing for officer Justin Shultz was held Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Larry Hopkins in Charleroi. Hopkins held the charges for court after denying a motion to dismiss them by Shultz's attorney, Noah Geary.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, at 3 a.m. Nov. 9 Shultz was assisting in handling Adam Logan, who was arrested for robbery in relation to a purse snatching.

Logan was handcuffed behind his back and had his leg shackled to a bench in the department's holding cell while awaiting arraignment. According to the complaint, after Shultz searched Logan and walked out of the cell, he returned, grabbing him and shaking him against the wall. Shultz allegedly pulled Logan toward him and slammed him to the bench and floor.

California Police chief Rick Encapera testified that he was alerted to the incident via text messages by two other officers who were working and viewed the video the next morning.

“I checked the report and saw that Shultz had made a supplement to the report stating what he had done while searching (Logan) in the jail cell. Then I checked the video of that night,” Encapera testified under questioning by Washington County Assistant District Attorney John Friedmann. “The cameras are located in the holding cell.

“After I viewed the video, I thought that was criminal. I immediately wrote a disciplinary letter to Shultz and sent him a copy by email and sent an officer to hand deliver it to him.”

Friedmann played the video for the courtroom.

Encapera said he spoke to Logan at his preliminary hearing on the robbery charge. He never received any medical reports on potential injuries to Logan following the alleged assault.

Logan was transported by constables to Hopkins' office from the Washington County jail Thursday, but was not called to testify. The officers who reported the incident to Encapera the night of the incident were also present but did not testify.

During cross-examination by Geary, Encapera admitted the video shows Logan talking to Shultz and other officers but that there was no audio to hear what he was saying.

“What made it criminal and not a reasonable force or excessive force issue, which would make this a civil matter?” Geary asked.

Encapera replied, “He was handcuffed and secured ... no danger to any of the officers. I felt that anything more than verbal would be more than excessive.”

“Was Logan provoking officer Shultz verbally?” Geary asked Encapera.

“You can see that he was verbally talking to the officers,” Encapera said. “Apparently he was saying things to all the officers. ... All the officers said that he was trying to get out of the arrest.”

Encapera said that when Shultz was notified that charges were being filed against him, Shultz told him he was “settling down a prisoner.”

The supplemental report submitted by Shultz was read by Encapera.

“... this officer was asked to frisk Adam Logan, who was in custody for robbery charges ... ,” Encapera read aloud. “I advised him who I was ... after I completed the frisk, Logan began to become argumentative. He was told to sit and await his arraignment. ... Logan refused to do so and became aggressive towards this officer. Logan was screaming and quickly approached this officer. At this point, I moved Logan to the bench by his chest. He then sat before throwing himself on the ground. I left him where he threw himself.”

Geary made a motion that the charges be dismissed on the grounds that there was no audio with the video.

“In fairness to my client, (the officers) were never called to testify,” Geary argued. “That's a key component ... what is the inmate saying to Shultz? I think that's a problem with the government's case.

“Secondly, Logan did not testify. Logan would be the victim. It's known in criminal law, if there's no victim, there's no crime. ... By Logan failing to testify, that should be construed that he does not want to pursue the charges, and so that is a weakness in the government's presentation.”

Friedmann argued that there is no need for a victim to testify, especially in a preliminary hearing if there is other evidence to support the elements of those crimes.

“The video is evidence of officer Shultz's actions,” Friedmann said. “The charge of simple assault is the cause or the attempt to cause bodily injury. Although there is no audio, I don't know that it is necessary. Whatever Mr. Logan may have been saying to Mr. Shultz is immaterial. Officer Shultz was outside of the room; obviously there was a door that could have easily been closed to alleviate whatever issues Mr. Logan speaking would have had. Officer Shultz reapproached Mr. Logan, regardless of what he was saying, and subjected him to this physical contact.”

After the hearing, Geary said he was disappointed with Hopkins' decision.

“There's a backdrop of the borough wanting to get rid of officer Shultz,” Geary claimed. “They took disciplinary action against him (last year) and he grieved it, went to a labor arbitrator and it was reversed and the borough was ordered to pay him back-pay.

“They just paid him after three months. They've brought other allegations, which I don't think have merit.

“I'm surprised that neither of the other officers testified; they were sitting there in the courtroom. Certainly, relevant to the legal analysis would be what (Logan) was saying to officer Shultz. You can tell he's saying things to him.”

Geary said he asked Encapera during cross-examination if Logan was verbally provoking Shultz. Encapera said he didn't ask the other officers.

“How do you not ask them?” Geary questioned. “Was he drunk; was he high? He said he didn't know. How do you not know that?”

Geary said he believes Shultz was entitled to hear the other officers' testimony.

“I was surprised that the inmate was not called to testify,” Geary said. “Does he even want to pursue this?

“The context of the chief bringing these charges here is that the borough wants to get rid of Shultz.”

Shultz is currently awaiting a Laudermill hearing on the charges before any action can be taken on his job status by borough council.

Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jsellew@tribweb.com or 724-684-2667.

 

 
 


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