Lawyer says racial profiling, unlawful search led to client’s drug arrest at Murrysville Sheetz
The lawyer for a Pittsburgh man awaiting trial on charges he tried to sell more than $30,000 of heroin last year near a Murrysville convenience store contends his client was a victim of racial profiling.
Attorney Matthew Ness, during a hearing Thursday, said criminal charges against Damonte Jones, 20, should be dismissed because state police troopers had no probable cause to search his backpack as he stood alone in front of a business on Route 22.
Ness questioned two investigators who claimed they identified Jones through a tip from an informant about a large drug sale that was scheduled to occur at the Murrysville Sheetz in the late morning hours of Feb. 2, 2018.
Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Nicholas Pelc said investigators were told that a black man nicknamed “Cut” was traveling by taxi to Murrysville with heroin to sell. While watching the Sheetz store, troopers saw a man who matched that description exit a taxi, walk into the store then across the street to a nearby pharmacy and appeared to send or receive a text on his phone.
Pelc testified he was in uniform when he approached Jones, who claimed he was driven to Murrysville by his father. Police said that after the taxi driver denied any relationship to Jones, he gave them permission to search his backpack. Police found more than 2,000 bags of heroin, Pelc said.
Jones claimed he did not intend to sell the drugs when he hired the taxi to drive him about 25 miles to Murrysville.
“Me and the taxi driver decided to get something to eat,” Jones testified.
Jones, who is free after posting a $75,000 cash bond last year, testified Pelc lied during his testimony, that the troopers were not in uniform and that they took his backpack and searched it without consent.
Assistant District Attorney Anthony Iannamorelli asked Jones if the troopers are liars.
“Absolutely,” Jones said.
Common Pleas Court Judge Tim Krieger said he will take the defense motion under advisement and issue a ruling later.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .