Federal jury sides with city in police road-rage trial
The city of Pittsburgh is not liable for the actions of a former police officer who attacked a Squirrel Hill man and damaged his car in a road-rage incident, a federal jury decided Monday.
The city fired then-Detective Bradley Walker, who was off duty during the May 1, 2010, incident, because of his assault on Jarret Fate, 32.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl couldn't be reached for comment on the verdict.
“We never thought he was acting as a policeman. He wasn't,” Assistant Chief George Trosky said. “It was the right verdict.”
Joshua Autry, Fate's lawyer, said his client would appeal U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab's ruling that the jury first had to find that Walker acted as an officer before it could decide whether the city bears responsibility for keeping Walker on the force despite a history of violent actions.
“They are responsible for causing harm to the citizens of Pittsburgh,” Autry said.
Fate said the trial helped expose the inept handling of citizen complaints against the police.
“I'm happy that we shed more light on my situation,” he said. “There's still more to expose.”
Schwab last week dismissed Trosky and former police Chief Nathan Harper as defendants in the lawsuit, saying evidence showed they were not responsible for Walker's actions.
The judge ruled that city regulations and the police union contract effectively keep police brass from punishing officers unless the Office of Municipal Investigations sustains a citizen's complaint against the officer. Few of the investigations resulted in sustained complaints.
David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said the lawsuit and one last summer involving a police brutality complaint by a Homewood man cost the city the public's confidence even though verdicts, so far, favored the city and the police.
“Being found not liable isn't the same thing as saying everything is working well, and the public is left with the impression of an operation that is not functioning correctly,” he said.
“If the city is smart about this, they'll take these cases as an opportunity to ask how their processes for handling complaints can be improved before they start losing the cases.”
Bruce Antkowiak, a St. Vincent College law professor, said a lack of response by the city sets it up for having to pay larger damages if it loses a case.
“That could be a real compounding factor in the next civil case that comes along,” he said.
Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board, said the cases have highlighted problems with the system used to investigate and discipline officers who cross the line.
In an unrelated case, a federal grand jury on Friday accused Harper of diverting money from the police department for his personal use and failing to file income tax returns. Schwab polled the jurors before they resumed deliberations Monday to make sure that case would not influence their decision.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Three arrested in armed robbery in Lawrenceville
- Pittsburgh police say officers in video did not use excessive force
- U.S. Marshals fugitive task force arrests man wanted in McKeesport homicide
- Appellate court upholds most of jury’s verdict against officials of Lemington Home for the Aged
- Charges officially dropped against Ford, who is recovering from surgery
- W.Va. natural gas line explodes near Ohio border
- Hillview Street in Overbrook to be closed until Feb. 9
- Mt. Lebanon High School to sell its planetarium equipment
- Jan. 31 fundraiser to aid Homestead’s recovery from fire
- Project to End Human Trafficking volunteers help Uganda
- Grandview development plan inches ahead in Mt. Washington