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Suspended Mt. Pleasant officer ordered to trial in attempted rape case

Paul Peirce
| Friday, April 8, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
John Brown (right) of the Mt. Pleasant Borough Police Department is led away from the Greensburg barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police on Jan. 29, 2015 after his arraignment. Brown was held for trial at a preliminary hearing on Friday.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
John Brown (right) of the Mt. Pleasant Borough Police Department is led away from the Greensburg barracks of the Pennsylvania State Police on Jan. 29, 2015 after his arraignment. Brown was held for trial at a preliminary hearing on Friday.

A former Westmoreland County woman testified Friday that part-time Mt. Pleasant police Officer John Brown became increasingly frustrated and began choking her as she fended off his sexual advances during an off-duty incident Dec. 3 at a home he owned in Donegal Township.

“He ... grabbed me with his hands around my neck, holding me down on the bed, and I was gasping for air. I thought I was going to pass out,” the alleged victim told Ligonier District Judge Denise Thiel during a preliminary hearing.

After listening to the woman, the only person who testified at the hearing, Thiel ruled there was sufficient evidence for Brown, 42, who lists his official address as being in Mt. Lebanon, to stand trial on charges of attempted rape, attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, attempted sexual assault, indecent assault, aggravated assault and simple assault.

After the hearing, one of Brown's two private attorneys, Valerie Veltri of Natrona Heights, said her client maintains he is innocent. She called the woman's testimony “unfounded.” The Tribune-Review does not name alleged victims of sex crimes.

Veltri said Brown, who pleaded not guilty, intends to “vigorously defend himself against these unfounded charges.”

“Until all the facts and evidence are presented at trial, we don't know what happened,” she said.

State police Trooper James McKenzie wrote in a criminal complaint that Brown was drinking at Rodney's Corner Bar in Acme late Dec. 2 when he invited a group there back to his home on Rock Canyon Road in Donegal Township.

The alleged victim, who is in her 20s, testified under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro that she was not among the group drinking at the bar that night. She said she drove to Brown's home when he texted her after midnight to invite her to join the group for pizza.

After conversing with Brown and two friends in his garage, she said, Brown invited her upstairs “to watch television and cuddle.” Once upstairs, the woman testified, Brown bypassed the living room where there was a television and they went into his bedroom.

“I sat on the bed, and he started to take off his pants. He said he wanted to get comfortable,” the victim said.

The victim said there was no television in the bedroom.

She said Brown became increasingly aggressive.

“I told him no. I told him we're not going there,” the woman said.

The woman said she is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds, while Brown stands over 6 feet and weighs approximately 200 pounds.

The woman said Brown continued making sexual advances, attempting to take off her clothes as she pulled away from him.

During cross-examination, Veltri and co-counsel Michael Machen of Pittsburgh aggressively questioned the woman about why she chose to stay at Brown's home for about two hours after being assaulted, cooking and eating pizza, and conversing with others. Machen also questioned her about several “smoke breaks” she took outside the residence without leaving after the alleged assault.

“We were trying to get a plan together, so I could retrieve my car keys and stuff while avoiding him,” the woman said.

The woman became emotional during the cross-examination, grabbing tissues as she described being choked, and then testified that Brown “slapped me across my face by my right eye.”

Asked by defense attorneys why she didn't testify about being struck by Brown when questioned earlier by Ciaramitaro, the woman tearfully replied, “I'm under a lot of pressure.”

Thiel refused a request by Machen to introduce as evidence six to 10 text messages of a sexual nature that allegedly were sent by the woman to Brown prior to Dec. 3. Those items are expected to be introduced by the defense as evidence at Brown's trial.

Brown was hired by the borough in May and was suspended without pay after his arrest.

He remains free on $150,000 bond.

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for the Tribune-Review.

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