Judge puts Beaver County sheriff on house arrest, says he must surrender hundreds of guns

Tom Fontaine
| Monday, April 14, 2014, 3:54 p.m.

Beaver County Sheriff George David, whose charges include threatening a reporter with a pistol, must give up his collection of more than 700 firearms if he wants to stay out of jail before trial.

“I have guns that are worth a lot of money, some $30,000 to $40,000 each. Some have never been fired,” Sheriff George David said during a hearing on Monday to discuss violations of conditions of his bond. The weapons are in a walk-in vault on his 67-acre Hopewell property.

Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter called the collection a “small arsenal” and demanded it be removed from David's property, where the embattled sheriff will serve house arrest with electronic monitoring for bond violations until his trial in July.

David has pleaded not guilty to charges including intimidation, simple assault, harassment, making terroristic threats and reckless endangerment. He was free on $50,000 unsecured bond.

Visiting Mercer County Senior Judge Francis J. Fornelli ordered all the weapons be removed from the property by noon Friday. David's attorney, Lee Rothman of Pittsburgh, will take custody of them and is ordered to store them safely in a location unknown to David.

“This is like nothing I've ever encountered,” Rothman said.

Three handguns belonging to David's wife and another firearm at his father-in-law's home in Ambridge must be removed. State police must be present when all guns are relinquished, and troopers must search each location after the guns are taken away, under the judge's order.

Bruce Piendl, general manager of the gun dealership Anthony Arms & Accessories in West Mifflin, disputed the description of David's collection as an arsenal.

“He has an extensive collection, but it appears this is someone who has been involved with firearms for a very long time and has a passion for them,” Piendl said, noting he doesn't know David.

Piendl said such large collections aren't uncommon and make good investments.

“Smith & Wesson often pays better than the market,” Piendl said.

It's unclear what types of weapons David's collection includes, besides the expensive ones he referred to in court. He did not comment after the hearing.

David, 66, violated his bond on March 24 by going into an area of the sheriff's department the court said was off limits to him and for handling a shotgun there — just a few feet from deputies who have testified against him in his criminal case.

Rothman argued that his client wasn't trying to intimidate anyone. Defense witnesses testified that David had been in the department's armory to search for a piece of equipment that could hold a flashlight on a shotgun and, when it wasn't found, to describe the equipment to a corporal and a secretary who would order the equipment.

While in the armory, he “racked” a shotgun to make sure it was empty. The sound had a disturbing effect on some deputies, witnesses testified.

“I was very concerned. I just wanted to get out of there,” said Sgt. Michael Tibolet, one of the deputies who has testified against David.

Deputy Curtis Larrick testified that Tibolet “looked as white as a ghost” after seeing David in the armory.

Fornelli gave David permission to leave home to attend church and medical appointments and to visit his ailing father-in-law as part of his new bond conditions. He was to be fitted with an ankle monitoring bracelet on Monday.

“I've tightened down the last screw,” Fornelli said, adding he wanted to avoid incarcerating David because of his elected position.

“But this is it,” Fornelli told David. “If you violate these terms, you're going to jail.”

David is accused of keeping two deputies “from truthfully reporting David's wrongdoing” in dealings with John Paul Vranesevich of the Beaver Countian news website in an April 16, 2012, encounter. State police say David threatened Vranesevich with a pistol.

The sheriff also is accused of threatening to cut off and eat the hands of a campaign volunteer.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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