Share This Page

Steelers shooting party inquiry questioned

A federal whisterblower lawsuit has raised questions about how top Pennsylvania State Police officials handled allegations of favoritism toward Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 2006, several Steelers attended a shooting party at the Greensburg state police range with troopers after practice at training camp in Latrobe.

State troopers provided the Trib with 46 photographs of the party. The photos depict a dozen or more Steelers handling state police-issued AR-15 rifles, shotguns, a tear gas launcher and pistols while mugging with personnel from the Greensburg barracks.

The Trib asked state police spokeswoman Lt. Myra Taylor to provide the names of any group outside of law enforcement that had been allowed to fire state-owned weapons or ammunition at any range over the past decade.

She declined to answer.

The Harrisburg headquarters never probed the incident. Instead, it allowed the person who authorized the party -- then-commander Maj. Frank Monaco -- to do his own investigation.

"What the Greensburg range incident proves to us is that if state police officers don't find anything out, they don't have to punish anyone who is powerful," said Bruce A. Edwards, president of the Pennsylvania State Police Troopers Association.

Union officials contend that had a trooper orchestrated the gun party instead of Monaco, a very different reaction would've occurred. Monaco, who retired in 2008, is the Plum police chief.

Monaco says the shooting party is "much ado about nothing."

A federal lawsuit filed in 2008 by retired Lt. Jim Fulmer of Bolivar contends the photographs reveal safety issues at the party, including images showing players mistakenly pointing gun muzzles at other players. He filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that state police officials showed favoritism toward cronies.

In a deposition, Monaco said two deputy commissioners received leaked e-mail photos of the Steelers' party. He said that Jeff Miller, the department's commissioner at the time and today a security director for the National Football League, called him "and we chatted about it."

"He had no problem. No violations. Nothing covered up. There was violation of nothing. I was willing to take responsibility. Put the blame on me. Because I knew about it," said Monaco in his deposition.

According to Monaco, the Steelers wanted to shoot at the state range.

Steelers players and security said the invitation came from the police.

Monaco said he authorized the party based on the promise that players would use either their own guns or those personally owned by the troopers.

"They shot with personally owned weapons with the troopers. Not state weapons. Not state ammunition," said Monaco.

Some players told the Trib they didn't bring their own guns or ammo. Weapons are prohibited in the dormitory at St. Vincent College.

"I was given a shotgun. It wasn't mine. It wasn't my ammunition," said Steelers offensive lineman Max Starks.

Photographs showed several Steelers pointing AR-15 rifles downrange with magazines inserted. Boxes of ammunition litter their feet and the ammo locker is clearly open, with cartons stacked for use on a nearby picnic table.

Former defensive end Rodney Bailey is wearing ear protection and smiling in one photograph, the AR-15 in his hands marked with the tell-tale white sticker designating it as state property.

Monaco says there is no proof the Steelers ever fired the weapons or bullets. He said he personally investigated, and his troopers assured him that except for old targets, no taxpayer property was used.

"Even if they did• So what?" Monaco said.

In a statement released through NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, Miller said that he had "no knowledge of the firing range incident until roughly two years after it occurred."

Retired Lt. Col. Ralph M. Periandi, Monaco's direct supervisor, said he didn't learn about the incident until the late fall of 2006, several months after the party.

Periandi said it "would have made a difference about how we looked at it internally" had Monaco alleged that if state equipment were used. But he assured Periandi that no taxpayer weapons or ammo had been provided to the Steelers.

"Frank Monaco brought it to our attention," Periandi said. "He said, 'There are photos that are out there. I don't know who has the photos or e-mails that have been sent around, but Harrisburg should not be surprised by this."

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.