Jonathan D. Silver Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Copyright 2005 P.G. Publishing Co.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
Ten years after a Pittsburgh Housing Authority police officer shot an unarmed motorist to death in the Armstrong Tunnels, a coalition yesterday alleged that Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr. and former top police officials might have broken the law in connection with the case and requested an independent investigation of their actions.
The allegations were contained in a four-page letter by attorney Robert McClenahan that described a decadelong "miscarriage of justice" stemming from the April 6, 1995, shooting death of Jerry Jackson by John Paul Charmo.
Mr. McClenahan, representing the Citizen Police Review Board, the Urban League of Pittsburgh and several other organizations, wrote that "malfeasance" by some members of the police bureau "has been officially ignored for a decade."
The letter was hand-delivered to Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Joseph James, who has authority to ask the state attorney general to intervene. A copy was mailed to Attorney General Tom Corbett.
Mr. Charmo pleaded guilty in 2001 to involuntary manslaughter for shooting Mr. Jackson, 44, of Hazelwood, in the tunnels after police chased the stolen car he was driving following a traffic infraction.
Mr. Charmo has said he fired his gun because Mr. Jackson spun his car 180 degrees inside the tight tunnels and came at him. However, evidence that was available but never presented during a 1995 coroner's inquest, but came to light four years later, showed the car could not have performed such a maneuver.
Mr. McClenahan alleges that Chief McNeilly, former Assistant Chief Craig Edwards and retired Cmdr. Ronald Freeman might have obstructed the administration of law and been in breach of their official duties by not coming forward with certain crucial evidence during the coroner's inquest.
"Because these individuals did not come forward, the case was obstructed and the criminal justice system was corrupted," the letter said.
Mr. McClenahan, former chairman of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, claims that interviews, photographs and crime lab reports went missing from the Jackson case file, but does not allege who took them.
He also suggested that the law was broken when accident investigators were not called to reconstruct the accident scene, allegedly in violation of a standing Police Bureau order.
In response to the letter, Chief McNeilly said in a statement that he welcomed an investigation but discounted the legitimacy of any complaints.
"I find it interesting that the timing of these unfounded accusations coincides with the changing of the city's administration and that some individuals who have animosity toward me are using it to discredit me," Chief McNeilly said.
Mr. Freeman also said he would cooperate with an investigation.
"I welcome any legitimate independent investigation into this and I'll cooperate in any way without benefit of counsel," Mr. Freeman said. "I have nothing to hide."
The letter was supported by the Black Political Empowerment Project, the Urban League of Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, the Citizen Police Review Board and city police officers Charles Bosetti and Robert Swartzwelder.
Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1962.
John Paul Charmo
December 8, 2005
10 years later, attorney goes after Pa. police