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Reporting officer had photo op with Roethlisberger

| Saturday, March 13, 2010

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. -- The Milledgeville police officer who took the March 5 statement from a woman who accused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexually assaulting her mugged for photographs with the star hours earlier.

Patrolman Jerry Blash was joined in the photo, taken during Roethlisberger's downtown bar-hopping, by Milledgeville Detective Everett January, Lt. Willie Goddard and Officer Paul Cressman.

Milledgeville authorities insist none of the officers spent time with Roethlisberger at the Capital City nightclub or the dance bar's VIP room, which is adjacent to a restroom where Roethlisberger is accused of assaulting the 20-year-old Georgia College & State University student.

Saying that every Milledgeville officer was "in training" Friday, police officials declined to discuss the photos. But police Chief Woodrow Blue Jr. told The Union-Recorder newspaper here that the snapshots don't disturb him and that Blash had little involvement with the case after writing down a brief statement from Roethlisberger's accuser.

Mayor Richard Bentley said the police chief did not brief him on the officer's previous involvement with Roethlisberger, and he learned about it from the news media.

"I think that this is probably an innocent byproduct of the more serious incident," said Bentley. "Had there not been the allegation of sexual assault in the Capital City, none of this would have meant anything. I can assure the people of Pittsburgh that this does not mean that we're not going to properly pursue this case. We adamantly will pursue this case like any other one.

"We take public safety and the welfare of the students here very seriously. We act upon any accusation of any crime being committed."

Another officer, Sgt. Nick Reonas of the campus police at Georgia College & State University, was photographed with the quarterback and other officers.

"He was off duty," said university spokesman Harry Battson. "He was not at the Capital City. When he reported for duty Friday, he immediately told us that he had been briefly with Mr. Roethlisberger. He has no role whatsoever in the investigation."

Officials with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and Baldwin County's Sheriff Department said none of their personnel met with Roethlisberger during his Milledgeville visit, which began about 10:30 p.m. March 4. The woman told Blash about 2:30 a.m. that she had been assaulted.

Blash, an eight-year veteran of the department, and his supervisor, Goddard, were on duty when Roethlisberger arrived to go bar-hopping in Milledgeville. Officials are investigating whether one of two Pennsylvania law enforcement officers in Roethlisberger's entourage flagged down Blash and the off-duty cops to introduce them to the quarterback.

Coraopolis police Officer Anthony Baravecchio and Pennsylvania State Trooper Ed Joyner were vacationing with Roethlisberger at his mansion in the Great Waters section of the Reynolds Plantation lake and golf community about 35 miles northeast of Milledgeville.

Roethlisberger's Atlanta attorney, Edward T.M. Garland, has insisted his client will be exonerated after a thorough investigation by Milledgeville police and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. He nevertheless dispatched private investigators to the city of 20,000 people, about 80 miles south of Atlanta.

Garland hired a private investigator, Charles Mittelstadt, who yesterday contacted a lawyer for the club where the woman says the assault took place, The Associated Press reported.

Police haven't charged Roethlisberger with any crime. Although detectives said they would ask him to provide samples of his DNA, Milledgeville officials have not indicated that police reinterviewed him or that he submitted DNA for analysis. At the request of authorities, the woman was treated at Oconee Regional Medical Center and released.

Friends say she plans to return to school after a brief stay with her parents in suburban Atlanta.

Bentley said none of the officers photographed was investigating the Roethlisberger matter. He did not think the short police interview with Roethlisberger on March 6 -- shortly before the quarterback returned to Pittsburgh -- was triggered by his officers' brief brush with celebrity.

The mayor said Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents stationed in Milledgeville are handling a large portion of the high-profile case.

"We call them for assistance in cases like this," he said. "And this is not a common case. We're not all that experienced with celebrities in Milledgeville to begin with, and we're really not experienced with celebrities being accused of committing crimes in Milledgeville.

"I'm pleased with the professionalism of our law-enforcement department. As a community, we never asked for any of this. We're a quiet community. We think of the students here like parents think about their children. We don't want our image tarnished by the incident."

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