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Thursday, July 28, 2011

City Paper story may lead to review-board investigation

Posted By on Thu, Jul 28, 2011 at 2:23 PM

A City Paper story about two feuding Pittsburgh Police officers could soon become the subject of a Citizen Police Review Board investigation.

In May, CP reported about an unusual dispute between two police officers. The officers, Chuck Bosetti and Lisa Luncinski, disagreed on how to handle the case of 59-year-old James Takos, who last September crashed his bicycle, allegedly while intoxicated, into a stop sign in Oakland.

Bosetti, the first-responding officer, wanted Takos to receive medical attention for his injuries, and decided against charging him. But Luncinski, who arrived on scene later, decided to pursue criminal charges, including DUI, against the bicyclist. Months later, the case made it to a courtroom, where the two officers testified against one another before a district judge.

"This article contains information that raises questions about police procedures and the effect on civilians, due process and the court system," Beth Pittinger, the CPRB's executive director, wrote in a May report seeking a board investigation. "The described situation also reinforces the importance of disclosing conviction rates as a measure of effective arrests."

CP's story highlighted a number of issues related to the Takos case. For one thing, Bosetti raised concerns that Luncinski's decision to file criminal charges against the bicyclist may have violated Takos' Miranda rights -- the right to be warned that anything a suspect says can be used against him. Bosetti told CP that Takos admitted he'd been drinking only after Bosetti told him he wouldn't be facing charges.

"Was there a potential Miranda violation pursuant to the dispute between the officers?" Pittinger's report to the board asks. "Who/what determines who will be the arresting officer? (Control unit's role vs. back-up or other officers' role)"

Another concern raised in the story was the concept of police discretion, an officer's right to make or forego an arrest. As Pittinger's report asks, "Was the ... arrest within the bounds of police discretion? ... What standards guide discretion?"

In the story, Bosetti also accused Luncinski -- whom he called a "bounty hunter -- of criminally charging Takos simply to "cash in on this guy's misery."

Police earn overtime pay for testifying against the people they arrest -- and few have earned as much as Luncinski, a 14-year veteran of the force often tasked with DUI details. According to city pay records, Luncinski, who makes roughly $60,000 in annual base pay, logged 449 court hours from Feb. 1, 2010, to Feb. 1, 2011, earning a total of $18,192.09 in court premium pay.

"Does a desire to earn court time pay influence arrest decisions? Pittinger asks in her report. "How do postponements affect officers' court pay? Can the postponement process be abused for profit? (How is court time and related activities monitored by supervisors?)"

Finally, there are questions about the contents of Luncinski's criminal complaint. The complaint never mentioned Bosetti's presence at the scene of the accident. Nor did it discuss his disagreement with Luncinski over the decision to arrest Takos.

Takos' defense attorney only learned that Bosetti was present on the scene after Bosetti took his concerns to the district attorney's office. An assistant DA later informed Takos' attorney about Bosetti's misgivings regarding the criminal charges. (Note: District Judge James Hanley Jr. dismissed the DUI charges against Takos on April 19, but found the bicyclist guilty of lesser charges of public intoxication and disorderly conduct.)

"Was there a material omission on the affidavit of probable cause?" Pittinger asks in her report. "(Is there a check system to validate factual content?)"

Pittinger's report asks the board to "initiate a study of the policies & procedures related to the arrest described in the [CP] article … and if appropriate, make recommendations to the Chief [of Police] for the purpose of improving public understanding of police procedures and enhancement of police efficiency."

In May, the board tabled Pittinger's recommendation for further study. They did the same again at their June meeting. The board was expected to act on the recommendation during their July meeting earlier this week, but the meeting was cancelled because the board did not have a quorum. The board's next meeting takes place in September.

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