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Pittsburgh officials resisted hiring police recruit later found to be wanted in Massachusetts

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Saturday, May 10, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
 

City officials tried to stop a Pittsburgh police recruit from joining the force, but he won his appeal to be reconsidered for a job.

The Pittsburgh Civil Service Commission initially disqualified Elijah Hill, 36, of Crafton Heights because of an arrest for domestic violence and a failed lie detector test.

But Hill won an appeal in January and earned a spot on the list to be hired. He began training as a recruit on March 17.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said the city has a zero tolerance policy on domestic violence for officers that should apply to recruits.

“Everything that's been alleged about his background are major flags,” Pittinger said. “Certainly, there should have been pause and concern.”

The Tribune-Review reported that Pittsburgh police fired Hill on Thursday, about a month after discovering his decade-old felony warrant for an arrest in Massachusetts.

Despite conducting a background check, the city didn't find the arrest warrant charging Hill with violating a restraining order and witness intimidation until Hill tried to purchase a service weapon from a gun store and was denied because of a background check.

He has a hearing on the charges in Essex County this month.

Hill did not return a message seeking comment on Friday but has told the Trib that he didn't know about the Massachusetts arrest warrant.

Applicants for civil service jobs who are deemed ineligible or disqualified can appeal that determination at a public hearing before three civil service commissioners.

Hill told commissioners during his Jan. 6 hearing that when he returned from his Army service in Iraq in 2005, he began having sleep abnormalities and anxiety issues. He explained that he was given incorrect medication, but that it had been corrected.

He told the commissioners he went to counseling as a result of a domestic violence arrest in Crafton in 2010 and made amends with his wife.

Crafton police charged Hill with simple assault and providing false identification to law enforcement. The charges were withdrawn.

Civil service commissioners, who are mayoral appointees, granted Hill's appeal. Commission President Joseph J. Kennedy IV declined to answer questions and referred comment to Todd Siegel, director of personnel and civil service. The other two commissioners, Cynthia McCormick and Stephen MacIsaac, did not return messages.

Mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty declined to comment.

A public safety official in Massachusetts shed light on how it could be possible for the 2002 arrest warrant to escape detection during Pittsburgh's background check on Hill. Massachusetts submits all state arrest warrants to the federal database used by gun sellers to conduct background checks, but it's up to local departments to put those same arrest warrants into a separate national law enforcement database that the city and other agencies use, said Curt Wood, undersecretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

“This has been a long-standing issue across the country, and Massachusetts has been one of the states that's traditionally had challenges with local departments putting warrants into the national database,” Wood said.

Margaret Harding is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or mharding@tribweb.com.

 

 

 
 


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