The Allegheny County district attorney's office said it will review dozens of criminal cases involving a pair of Pittsburgh police officers charged Friday with framing two men in what prosecutors called a wrongful drug arrest.
Officers Kenneth Simon, 49, and Anthony Scarpine, 58, were put on paid leave and could face termination in light of the charges against them, which include conspiracy, official oppression, unsworn falsification and obstruction.
Officer Simon also was charged with felony perjury and is accused of stealing more than $800 from the pockets of one of the men he and Officer Scarpine arrested.
The charges were the result of a months-long probe by the district attorney's office into the July 7 arrests of Tim Joyce, 22, and David Carpenter, 38, at a North Side car wash.
Numerous drug offenses against the men were filed -- and later withdrawn -- after the officers wrote in sworn accounts that they witnessed a hand-to-hand cocaine transaction that the district attorney's office said did not take place.
Surveillance footage from the car wash, in the 2900 block of Stayton Street, does not depict any contact whatsoever between either suspect and shows Officer Simon taking a wad of what appeared to be cash from Mr. Joyce's pocket, prosecutors wrote in a criminal complaint.
The allegations of stolen money arose after Mr. Joyce told county prosecutors he had $1,600 on him at the time of his arrest, $825 of which he borrowed from his mother, who, questioned while her son was held incommunicado, gave the same account.
Officer Simon wrote in the arrest affidavit that Officer Paul Abel, called to assist, recovered $793 from the center console of Mr. Joyce's Chevy, and Officer David Blahut found $217 in Mr. Carpenter's pants pocket.
Police brass learned of the problematic arrest after car wash owners Lydia and William Macaulay reviewed surveillance tapes at the request of Mr. Joyce's relatives.
Observing no footage of a drug transaction, the owners called Commander RaShall Brackney of the North Side station and told her there may have been a problem, prosecutors said. Cmdr. Brackney watched the tape and informed the district attorney's office.
Neither the commander nor the car wash owners could be reached for comment Friday.
This is an isolated incident and should not reflect on other officers within the bureau, Police Chief Nate Harper wrote in a statement. Once this incident was brought to the attention of the commander, the officers were removed from patrol and placed on administrative assignment.
The chief declined to comment further.
Officer Simon, a 16-year veteran of the force, was arraigned early Friday and released on his own recognizance. Officer Scarpine, a city officer for 17 years, will be charged by summons. Neither officer would comment.
They were working together out of the Zone 1 station last summer when they pulled into the car wash, which Officer Simon said in the criminal complaint, is often used by subjects who meet in order to conduct narcotic transactions.
Officer Scarpine later told investigators he was on patrol when Officer Simon said he watched a drug deal go down at the car wash. Officer Simon said he saw Mr. Joyce hand Mr. Carpenter a plastic bag of cocaine. He told Officer Scarpine, the white guy just sold to the black guy.
Officer Simon wrote that he got out of his vehicle and approached Mr. Joyce, who quickly turned and reached inside the Chevy. When Officer Simon reached Mr. Joyce, he said he saw him put money inside the center console of the Chevy, and then placed him under arrest. He also saw Mr. Joyce's 4-month-old daughter on the passenger seat, the affidavit says.
Mr. Carpenter walked past the police vehicle as Officer Scarpine was getting out. Mr. Carpenter turned right toward a vehicle inside another wash bay, and Officer Scarpine saw him place a plastic bag of cocaine into his pants pocket, according to the arrest affidavit.
Officer Scarpine ordered Mr. Carpenter to stop, then called for the assistance of other officers and arrested Mr. Carpenter. The baby was returned to her mother, police said.
A district judge dismissed all charges against both Mr. Joyce and Mr. Carpenter. Investigators will now review any case in which officers Simon and Scarpine served as sole witnesses, said Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.
Neither Mr. Joyce nor Mr. Carpenter could be reached for comment.
My son could have went to prison for something he didn't do, said Mr. Joyce's mother, Karen Kelly, who said she watched the surveillance footage. She said her son is a successful boilermaker and she was stunned when he was charged.
She referred other questions to Mr. Joyce's lawyer, Tim O'Brien, who did not return calls for comment.
Officer Simon has been disciplined for problems with credibility in the past, police sources said. He worked for about a year in the city's narcotics and vice squad before he was transferred to the Zone 1 station.
While in narcotics, sources said, Officer Simon was charged internally with untruthfulness after he lied to a supervisor about an incident involving the use of a confidential informant in a drug buy.
Police said he received counseling after he sought overtime pay for details he did not work. His attorney, Bill Difenderfer, did not return calls seeking comment.
Officer Scarpine was already under investigation by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations for a May arrest of a woman on witness intimidation charges at the Municipal Courts Building, Downtown.
Attorney James Wymard, who is representing Officer Scarpine, said his client worked as a police officer in Washington, D.C., for about 20 years and has an outstanding record in the city. He said Officer Scarpine did not see a drug transaction and was trusting what his partner said he witnessed.
He's been a good, fine officer who has served well, Mr. Wymard said. I can assure you we're going to fight this case for as long and hard as we need to.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
By Sadie Gurman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette