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Pittsburgh would settle with Blush strip club for $25K

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 1:39 p.m.

The short-lived decision to ban Pittsburgh police officers from providing off-duty security at a Downtown strip club could be a costly one.

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday will introduce legislation to pay One Three Five Inc., which does business as Blush, to settle a lawsuit the company filed claiming the ban violated its First Amendment rights.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald enacted the ban shortly after being promoted in February and did it without consulting city attorneys, according to her testimony in the case.

McDonald referred questions Tuesday to the city's Law Department. Assistant solicitor Wendy Kobee declined to comment on whether McDonald should have asked for legal advice in advance other than to say, “The Law Department is always available to confer with department heads.”

McDonald testified before a federal judge in April that she made her decision after reading articles stating that other cities prohibit police from working at adult entertainment businesses.

She cited a 2007 department policy that prohibits off-duty officers from working at places that would “tend to bring the Bureau of Police into disrepute.”

City police had been working at Blush for nearly 50 years until the ban.

“We look forward to maintaining our wonderful partnership with the city and its police department,” said Downtown attorney Jonathan Kamin, who represented Blush.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer overturned the ban in June, ruling that it likely violated the club's constitutional rights. Officers resumed working at the club afterward, according to police spokeswoman Diane Richard.

Public Safety Director Mike Huss said he is negotiating with the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 to establish a new policy for police moonlighting. The policy, among other things, would define when and where off-duty officers can work, he said. He declined further comment, citing ongoing negotiations.

FOP President Mike LaPorte said the city could incur costs in addition to the settlement. The union has filed a grievance seeking back pay of $10,000 to $12,000 for two officers who work security at Blush, as well as Cheerleaders in the Strip District, he said.

Council President Darlene Harris said she could not comment because the Law Department has yet to brief council on the proposed settlement.

Businesses pay about $40 an hour for off-duty officers. That includes a $3.85 per hour administrative fee the city charges.

A federal grand jury in March indicted former police Chief Nate Harper, 60, of Stanton Heights with diverting some of the money to accounts he opened at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Credit Union and spending at least $31,986 on personal uses. The grand jury accused him of failing to file tax returns for four years. McDonald became acting chief when Mayor Luke Ravenstahl asked Harper to resign in February.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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