County police will no longer
investigate city police shootings
Saturday, March 09, 2002
By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff
For the past several years, the Allegheny
County Police Department has overseen investigations of shootings involving
Pittsburgh police officers.
But a recent change in county policy means
its detectives won't be looking into last month's nonfatal shooting of a
Homewood man by a Pittsburgh SWAT officer. As a result, city police are
investigating themselves without the outside oversight required by law.
Under a city ordinance, after an officer
shoots someone -- as was the case most recently on Feb. 20, when Officer Patrick
Knepp shot Cecil Brookins after Brookins had shot and wounded two police
officers -- the director of the city's Department of Public Safety is required
to ask another law enforcement agency to supervise the investigation of the
Public Safety Director Kathy Kraus said
she does not get involved in finding an outside agency, instead deferring to
Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr.
The chief, who supports having external
supervision, has found himself in a difficult position, however.
In a low-key move, the county notified
McNeilly late last year that as of Jan. 1, it would no longer supervise
investigations of shootings involving city officers.
The county's main objection was that its
detectives were hindered from having complete control over such investigations
by opposition from the city police union.
"If there's a problem with the union
and we can't extend ourselves to the fullest, then we just can't do it,"
county police Superintendent Kenneth Fulton said.
McNeilly said state police long ago
informed Pittsburgh police that troopers wouldn't supervise investigations. The
FBI ordinarily gets involved only when there are allegations of civil rights
abuse. And the state attorney general's office comes in only by request from the
local district attorney, who must plead either a conflict of interest or lack of
With all these avenues closed and the
county out of the picture, McNeilly is exploring his options by consulting with
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
"I think what we're all interested in
is having somebody independent from the bureau there to supervise the overall
investigation," McNeilly said.
"I have asked the DA to consider this
and sent him a copy of a letter asking for such assistance. If they don't agree
to assist, I will look to ask the AG's office. Hopefully, someone will be
willing," McNeilly said. "If not, we may have to look to having the
county do the entire investigation and contend with the FOP's position on this
in another forum."
The county's change of heart came during a
standard end-of-year policy review.
"We did an overall review and
determined with the help of the solicitor that we should be, as we are in all
investigations, in charge," Fulton said. "In all the ones we're called
into, we're in complete control of the investigation, and in matters of the
city, we are not. We are just supervising."
By being merely supervisors, the county
could run into difficulties if there is a difference of opinion with city
investigators on how to run an investigation.
"If there's a disagreement in policy
on an investigation, what do we do? If we suggest it should be this way and the
city says it should be [that] way, we have a problem," Fulton said.
Fulton conferred with both county
Solicitor Terry McVerry and county Manager Robert Webb before making his
County police started assisting city
police with investigations after former Officer Jeffrey Cooperstein shot and
killed Deron Grimmitt Sr. of the Hill District in December 1998 during a chase.
The county was called in to do the entire
investigation. Cooperstein was charged with homicide and acquitted in February
2000. He left the force because he has multiple sclerosis.
Since then, the county has supervised
perhaps four other investigations, including the fatal shooting of a Spring Hill
man in Garfield last October. Coroner Dr. Cyril H. Wecht on Thursday ruled the
A month after the Cooperstein shooting,
the Fraternal Order of Police sought to protect its union members by charging
that it was unfair for county detectives to be brought in to do the work of city
The union brought the matter to the state
Labor Relations Board. But before the board could act, the two sides agreed that
a county employee could manage an investigation, allowing that person to act in
a nonunion capacity as a supervisor.
"When I first was confronted with it,
I went to the FOP and said I thought it was an unfair labor practice. This was
something they did not bargain for," FOP attorney Bryan Campbell said.
"[City] homicide does this work.
Homicide has always done this work. You can't just take the work away from them
and replace them through an outside agency unless you do it through collective
bargaining, and we'd fight them tooth and nail through collective
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