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Test shows Taser not used in South Side arrest; mayor wants detective fired

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 10:57 a.m.

Tests show a Pittsburgh police officer put a Taser to the neck of a St. Patrick's Day reveler and did not pull the trigger to shock the man, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said Monday he wants to fire him.

“It is very disturbing,” Ravenstahl said of Detective Frank Rende's actions Saturday outside Claddagh Irish Pub at SouthSide Works, which a bystander captured on video and posted online.

“It's something that shouldn't have happened,” the mayor said, calling Rende's behavior while arresting Mark Keyser Jr. of Ross too aggressive. “He clearly engaged the individual and went out of his way 10 to 20 yards to engage the individual.”

Rende, 55, of New Homestead declined comment.

After meeting with acting Chief Regina McDonald and Public Safety Director Michael Huss, Ravenstahl recommended terminating Rende but is awaiting results of a review by the Office of Municipal Investigations to finalize the decision, spokeswoman Marissa Doyle said.

She said Rende will work in an administrative office.

Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Michael LaPorte called the mayor's comments premature.

“The guy was told to leave, and he didn't. He stayed,” LaPorte said.

Keyser, 27, said he wants to review what happened with a lawyer before commenting. On his Facebook page, he compared Rende to fellow Officer Christopher Kertis, who was shot and wounded while chasing a suspect in East Liberty early Sunday.

“Although I am angered by what happened to me and want to see justice done, we should all remember that there are many more upstanding police officers out there than the (expletives) that give them a bad name,” Keyser wrote.

Police spokeswoman Diane Richard would not answer questions.

“I spoke with the deputy chief who responded: ‘It has been determined that the Taser was not utilized and everything else remains under investigation,' ” she wrote in an email.

The video shows Rende walking away from the camera toward Keyser, shouting, “You want Tased?” Rende raises his hand with the stun gun as he stands next to Keyser on the sidewalk; Keyser falls to the ground. Rende arrests Keyser, who says to the detective: “I tried to leave; you pushed me over.”

Use-of-force experts decried what they saw.

“The officer initiates the force. The individual was offering no physical resistance,” said Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “The officer is also clearly out of control. His language alone should be enough to warrant his removal from duty.”

“What stands out is that man is walking away and the police officer pursued him and the man ended up on the ground,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, who wrote a report on the use of Tasers.

Rende said in a criminal complaint that he working off-duty outside of Claddagh when a manager asked him to remove a patron. He said he was trying to make Keyser leave the sidewalk out front when he “placed the Taser to the side of the actor's neck and pushed actor away from the (business), not activating the Taser.”

Rende charged Keyser with defiant trespass, public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. Keyser was released on a nonmonetary bond.

Sgt. John Fisher, whom Rende said was supervisor of the detail, referred comment to Richard. Tommy Butler, general manager at Claddagh, did not return a call.

Rende has a history of problems in the bureau since his hiring in July 1993.

“Frank has a reputation, there's no doubt,” Ravenstahl said. “This incident stands on its own, despite Frank's history in previous situations.”

In April 2011, an online video of Rende using a Taser and his baton on Pirates fan Scott Ashley at PNC Park made headlines. Ashley, 43, of Friendship pleaded guilty to simple assault, resisting arrest and summary harassment. The Citizen Police Review Board reviewed that incident but disposed of the case when Ashley pleaded guilty, Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger said.

“His overall demeanor, it's just wrong,” Ashley said on Monday.

Police investigated Rende for using sick days to perform side jobs but withdrew disciplinary action in 2006.

In 1999, Rende responded to a woman's South Side home for a domestic violence report. He later returned to the home while off-duty and engaged in a sex act with the woman, according to an OMI report. He was suspended and considered for termination, but an arbitration panel reinstated him.

Margaret Harding and Bob Bauder are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Harding can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com. Bauder can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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