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Allegheny County Public Defender's Office site of drug sale

| Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 12:29 a.m.

A man accused of helping to sell drugs to undercover Pittsburgh police officers during a meeting in the Allegheny County Public Defender's Office told them it was the “safest place” for such transactions, court records show.

Police on Friday plan to discuss the drug charges filed against Matthew Stewart, 21, of Reserve and Jason Rutherford, 55, of McKees Rocks. The arrests were part of a Downtown drug investigation in response to complaints of open-air trafficking of prescription pills, according to a criminal complaint filed against Stewart.

Police Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant declined to release details before Friday, saying that doing so would jeopardize the investigation.

County Public Defender Elliot Howsie did not return a message seeking comment.

County Manager William McKain said there are security guards on duty and cameras in place in the County Office Building, and he was not aware of any prior issues related to drug sales in the building.

“Although not specific to this incident, part of the county's process is to constantly review and make changes as appropriate to security procedures and process — whether in response to a specific incident, because of a concern being raised, or just because there are other considerations for review,” McKain said in an email.

Police arrested Stewart on Friday. They had bought Alprazolam, a generic form of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, from Stewart near the McDonald's on Smithfield Street just after 9 a.m. on Jan. 25. Stewart told police he would be Downtown for an hour more because he had to go to the Public Defender's Office, a complaint against Stewart said.

The officers went into the McDonald's on Wood Street and began talking loudly about looking for pills while Rutherford sat nearby, a complaint said. One of the officers left, and then Rutherford began talking to the remaining officer about buying pills. Rutherford took him to the County Office Building on Forbes Avenue, the complaint said.

When the officer asked why they were going to that building, Rutherford told him, “This is the safest place to do these deals ... nobody would ever suspect anything,” the complaint said.

Rutherford took the officer to the Public Defender's Office on the fourth floor and met with a man in the hallway that the officer recognized as Stewart, who had sold him pills just 30 minutes prior, the complaint said. Rutherford took the officer's $20 and brought it to Stewart, who gave him five pills to take to the officer.

Rutherford has a preliminary hearing on the charges scheduled Thursday and Stewart's hearing is on April 19.

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

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