Beaver County sheriff back in hot seat, accused of threatening journalist with gun
There are no gray areas with Beaver County Sheriff George David, according to a friend.
“He doesn't put on airs. He's not the kind of person who kisses up to someone,” said John Havey, 68, of Hopewell. “He is who he is.”
For the second time in his 40-year law enforcement career, David, 67, of Hopewell will face a jury from the defendant's chair. His trial on charges of intimidation, simple assault, harassment, terroristic threats and reckless endangerment is set to begin on Monday.
He's accused of threatening John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, with a blackjack and a gun during an April 16, 2012, interview in David's office in the Beaver County Courthouse.
David declined to comment.
“We are looking forward to cross-examining witnesses, present whatever evidence we wish to present, and we're looking forward to our day in court,” defense attorney Lee Rothman said.
Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter declined to comment.
In 1981, a jury acquitted David of two counts of simple assault. He was accused of hitting two Aliquippa residents with a blackjack in December 1978.
Twists and turns marked the most recent case. Prosecutors three times accused David of violating conditions of his bail, including talking to witnesses, and Mercer County Senior Judge Francis J. Fornelli eventually placed him on house arrest.
Lt. Thomas Ochs, one of two deputies who prosecutors say was in the room with David and Vranesevich, was charged last month with lying to a grand jury.
David has a history of battling county colleagues, having said repeatedly that no one has the right to tell him how to run his department.
Last year, while awaiting his criminal trial, he squared off in civil court against county commissioners, who told him to stop allowing deputies to perform private security duties. An Erie County judge issued a temporary injunction.
David said other sheriffs had done the same thing.
Lower courts issued decisions against him, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal, records show.
Havey, an attorney who represented David in the civil matter, said the injunction is not permanent.
Commissioners said they did not have the authority to remove David from office or ban him from the courthouse. Other than overseeing their budgets, commissioners don't have jurisdiction over row officers.
Aliquippa officials fired David from the city police department in 1994, saying he could not run for a Democratic Party committee seat while working as a police officer. He sued and got his job back.
David, a former steelworker, began his law enforcement career in 1972, in the former steel town of Aliquippa. He was shot in the foot in 1975 in gunplay that left a man dead.
In 1996, former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge appointed David as sheriff to replace Frank Policaro, who became a U.S. Marshal in Pittsburgh. When he lost an election bid in 1997, David went to work in the Beaver County Jail, becoming its chief of security. In 2007, he won election as sheriff.
“If you're a friend of his, you believe ... George would not commit a criminal act under any circumstances,” Havey said. “But if he's an enemy, or you had a run-in with him or a bad experience, you're going to think he's capable of anything.”
David isn't the only sheriff in Western Pennsylvania who has landed on the other side of the law.
In 2006, then-Allegheny County Sheriff Pete DeFazio resigned and pleaded guilty to a count of macing. He was accused of pressuring employees to donate money to his campaign.
In February 2007, a federal judge sentenced DeFazio to six months of house arrest.
Bill Vidonic is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.