Pittsburgh police say they accused wrong man of stealing doors, scrapping metal for heroin
Being falsely arrested by Pittsburgh police for stealing bronze doors from a cemetery and selling them to a scrap yard to buy heroin was embarrassing enough for Nicholas Viglione III of Overbrook.
Seeing the story all over the news two weeks after the charges against him were dropped has the single father of four young children wondering what he can do to repair his reputation.
“I live in a neighborhood where everybody's kids play together, but now I don't know if that's going to be different,” said Viglione, 32, who has custody of his children, ages 6, 5, 4 and 3.
“Now, when I take them out to play, or show up at school to see them in one of their little concerts, are all the parents going to be looking at me thinking: ‘There goes that grave-robbing drug addict?' Are MY kids going to get dirty looks for something they don't understand? People have been calling me all day asking if I should be going to rehab. This is horrible.”
Viglione said he was not sure whether he would pursue a lawsuit against city police.
Pittsburgh police issued a news release on Monday saying Viglione was one of three men arrested for stealing 108-year-old solid bronze doors valued at more than $8,000 from a mausoleum in Union Dale Cemetery in Perry South in the North Side on Jan. 3.
Michael Lawrence, 33, and Travis Haun, 30, both of the California-Kirkbride neighborhood, were arrested for the thefts on Jan. 24.
Viglione said two constables arrested him late at night on Jan. 10 because his state-issued photo ID was presented at a scrap yard when the metal doors, which were cut into smaller pieces, were sold.
He was taken to the Allegheny County Jail, booked and remained there until his father posted a $500 bond. He was released shortly before 11 a.m. on Jan. 12, he said.
The charges against Viglione were withdrawn at a preliminary hearing on Jan. 15, according to court records.
On Tuesday, Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard issued a new release stating that Viglione lost his identification weeks prior to the thefts and that it was fraudulently used to sell the stolen items.
“Mr. Viglione III had no part in this incident,” Richard wrote.
In a telephone interview, she called the mistake “unfortunate,” adding that “it was an error that was made because I did not have the rest of the information until this (Tuesday) morning.”
Richard said that once she learned that the information sent out was erroneous she was “urgent” in trying to inform media outlets.
A Pittsburgh attorney who tried to win compensation for a Braddock man who was released from prison after 17 years when a DNA test cleared him of murder, said the case involving Viglione has two key elements that could be addressed.
“One issue is whether this was a malicious prosecution or a false arrest,” said Lawrence Fisher. “Police don't have an obligation to investigate, but when they do conduct an investigation, they can't be reckless. Police can make an honest mistake, and if they do, there's really no recourse.”
But the question of whether police harmed Viglione's reputation by issuing the news release about his arrest “is its own little animal,” Fisher said.
“Police have no obligation to issue press releases, and if they do, they do so at their own peril if it's grossly inaccurate,” Fisher said.
“Defamation adds insult to injury. If the man was cleared weeks before the release was sent out, they should have known that the information being sent out was false and would harm him. That sounds like defamation,” Fisher said.
Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.