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Zappala asks police departments to work with DA's office on robbery charges

| Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, 11:54 p.m.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Tuesday requested that police departments throughout the county receive permission from his office before they file robbery charges.

The impetus, Zappala said, was three or four robbery cases in recent months in which police arrested the wrong person.

“We have to be more and more on the front end because when you arrest somebody it changes their lives,” said Zappala, who filed the request in Common Pleas Court.

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Stephen Bucar and his spokeswoman, Sonya Toler, did not respond to requests for comment.

County police Superintendent Charles Moffatt said he hadn't seen the request and could not comment.

Zappala said the practice is endorsed by many organizations, including the National District Attorneys Association. President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning must approve the request, which would go into effect 30 days after he signs it.

Requiring police agencies to get a prosecutor's approval is not new. In 2005, Zappala forced police to get approval before they file homicide charges; in 2010, he required they get approval for crimes of child abuse and felony sex assaults; and last year, he made police get approval for crimes involving persons 65 years of age or older.

Last month, Zappala required that city and county police get approval from his office before they issue felony arrest warrants that rely on eyewitnesses who don't know the suspect unless the departments changed their procedures for identification. His demand set off a firestorm between himself and Bucar, who disagreed with the procedures that Zappala endorsed.

A state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year said defense attorneys can call eyewitness experts to testify in court to debunk the perceived accuracy of eyewitness identification.

One way of keeping the integrity of those cases is to have a prosecutor review the evidence before police file charges, Zappala said.

“A lot of the language was a communication to the prosecutors in Pennsylvania (from that Supreme Court decision) that if you're going to charge somebody, then your case better have been investigated thoroughly,” he said. “So we're going to require that.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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