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Suspended Pittsburgh police clerk sues city, Ravenstahl

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Thursday, June 26, 2014, 10:33 a.m.
 

A suspended Pittsburgh police officer's civil lawsuit accuses a veteran assistant police chief and two former top officials of pressuring her to give special treatment to a politically connected valet parking company, but a legal expert said it's unlikely to reveal much about a federal grand jury investigation of the city's administration.

Tonya Montgomery-Ford, 44, of New Homestead claims in the lawsuit filed on Thursday that she was suspended in February 2013 for opposing abuses of the city's parking variance system. She complained she has remained on suspension because she testified before the grand jury that interviewed key members of former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration.

Montgomery-Ford is not a target of the investigation and federal prosecutors didn't grant her immunity from prosecution, said her lawyer, Sam Cordes.

Acting police Chief Regina McDonald and other officials have ignored repeated requests from Montgomery-Ford and the police union to explain why she is on suspension.

If the administration provided an explanation, it would trigger a process that would require the city to justify the suspension, Cordes said.

“What she did wrong in their eyes is that she ruffled the wrong political feathers,” he said.

Montgomery-Ford gets her base pay, Cordes said, but unlike other suspended officers, she doesn't get compensation for lost overtime and the city refused to let her attend training she needs to keep her state certification. She is seeking reinstatement, lost wages and compensatory damages.

“We will certainly investigate it and do what's fair,” Pittsburgh Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez Ridge said.

Ravenstahl's attorney, Charles Porter, could not be reached for comment.

Although a civil lawsuit has the potential to delve into the investigation, it's unlikely prosecutors would let information become public before the criminal investigation is over, said Bruce Antkowiak, a St. Vincent College law professor and former federal prosecutor.

“If it was serious enough in their eyes, they might seek to have a civil case stayed, pending the outcome of their criminal investigation,” he said.

Federal investigators in May 2013 used a subpoena to gather all parking variances the city granted companies since 2008. Montgomery-Ford testified before the grand jury that month. The variances allow a company or organization to park at metered spaces on city streets for free or at a reduced rate.

Robert Gigliotti, a friend of former police Chief Nate Harper and member of one of Ravenstahl's main campaign fundraising committees, owns Green Tree-based Tri State Valet parking service. The lawsuit claims that Ravenstahl, Harper and Assistant Chief George Trosky pressured Montgomery-Ford to give special treatment to Gigliotti and that her resistance particularly infuriated Trosky, who she says ultimately filled out forms for Gigliotti.

Gigliotti could not be reached. Public Safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said police officials had no comment.

Harper, 61, who resigned, pleaded guilty to misuse of public funds and failing to file tax returns. He is serving an 18-month prison term.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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