Peduto ‘concerned’ about narcotics, vice squads in wake of South Side bar brawl
The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police had no written policy for drinking on the job by undercover detectives, but immediately enacted guidelines following a brawl in a South Side bar between officers and members of the Pagans motorcycle gang, a city official said Monday.
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich said an investigation of the 2018 incident at Kopy’s bar uncovered several other similar incidents involving undercover officers from the Narcotics and Vice Squad and alcohol. He declined to offer specifics, but said the new guidelines cover drinking by officers during surveillance operations.
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Hissrich said. “There have been some guidelines set up so we do not have a repeat of what happened in Kopy’s.”
Detectives David Honick, David Lincoln, Brian Burgunder and Brian Martin were working undercover at Kopy’s on on Oct. 12 when an argument between several detectives and at least one Pagan escalated into a brawl.
Attorneys for the Pagans, who have since sued the city, contend the detectives consumed large amounts of alcohol before the fight started.
Four Pagans — Frank Deluca, Michael Zokaites, Erik Heitzenrater and Bruce Thomas — were arrested. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. later withdrew charges. Security footage captured the melee, including one officer punching Deluca 19 times in the head.
Hissrich and Mayor Bill Peduto said the city is weighing disciplinary measures against the officers.
Peduto said the city is also evaluating all narcotics and vice operations.
“I can say that I am concerned over the overall operations at narcotics and vice, and this one event is not a solitary event, which is why were taking the time to investigate thoroughly,” he said. “We have had continual meetings about this, and not only that, but continual conversations with everyone involved, not just the officers that were there that evening, but those that command them. We want to be able to look at this as a learning opportunity so we don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Hissrich said he and an assistant solicitor conducted at least 15 interviews with public safety personnel in addition to those conducted by the Office of Municipal Investigations.
“We looked at several incidents other than Kopy’s,” he said. “We interviewed not only police officers but also Emergency Medical Services employees and employees of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire. We did an overall assessment and we are still basically cleaning up some loose ends on it. We will make recommendations to both the mayor and the chief on what we feel could be improvements to the unit.”
Robert Swartzwelder, president of Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge 1, said he agrees with Hissrich and Peduto on the need for new policies.
“When you run undercover operations they’re very difficult operations and you need to have policies,” he said. “I know for a fact that they are evaluating those policies and that those policies did not exist.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .