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Video of Fayette County attorney's alleged drug handoff in Uniontown police station vanishes

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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 11:33 p.m.
 

The video that purportedly caught a Fayette County attorney delivering heroin to a client in police custody has vanished.

And so has the case against him, a defense lawyer contends.

Brian Salisbury, 35, of Newell is charged by Uniontown police with possession with intent to deliver, contraband and possession. Police said Salisbury gave a client heroin, Xanax and Suboxone when he visited the client at the booking center in the Uniontown police station on July 25.

The complaint says the transaction was caught on video. But the video is gone, so the defense wants the case to be dismissed.

“It is clear that critical evidence against the defendant is based upon video surveillance of the alleged activity,” Uniontown attorney Sam Davis wrote in a pretrial motion. “The video surveillance tape has been lost without the defendant ever having the opportunity to view or examine it.”

The only witness to the alleged transaction was Salisbury's client, according to Davis. The client, who is identified in the criminal complaint as Aaron Les Yauger, did not testify at Salisbury's Dec. 17 preliminary hearing.

Without the testimony or the video, Davis contends, prosecutors don't have a case.

A Uniontown police officer testified at the hearing that the video was deleted, according to a transcript.

Officer Matthew Painter testified he was “shocked” when he went to view the video, only to find it was not available.

“You have a transaction that you make sure is recorded. After the accused is charged, you then destroy the recording?” Davis asked.

“Sir, I did not,” Painter replied. “I don't know what happened. There was some type of glitch in the system, and it deleted all surveillance.”

Capt. David Rutter testified he viewed the video several times on the day Salisbury was taken into custody, but he did not immediately make a copy of it. When Rutter arrived at the police station to make copies on July 28, he said, the video- surveillance system had crashed.

“The next day, I called the company that makes it and asked them if there was any way, you know, how I can retrieve the information that was on there,” Rutter testified. “They said they didn't believe it was possible.”

Rutter said the missing video showed Salisbury approaching Yauger's cell door and removing an item from his hat brim. Salisbury placed the item in his left pocket, sat some paperwork on the floor, then retrieved the item from his pocket and slid it under the cell door.

Yauger retrieved the item, Rutter testified, then Yauger scratched his head as a prearranged signal to officers who were watching events unfold on surveillance cameras. Salisbury was placed under arrest, and Yauger turned over a tin foil-wrapped package containing suspected narcotics.

Davis argues Salisbury had an expectation of privacy when he visited his client, and contraband charges can apply only when illegal substances are delivered to an inmate in a prison or mental hospital. Yauger was not an inmate at the time, Davis argues, and the booking center is not a penal or correctional institution.

A hearing on the motion has not been scheduled, but a state prosecutor wants to speed up proceedings in the case.

Deputy Attorney General Katie Wymard has asked that Salisbury's May 27 pretrial conference be moved up, because she will likely be on maternity leave at that time and wants the case resolved by then.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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