03/21/2002

Three Investigations into Man Involved in Police Gunfight

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the release of a prisoner from the county jail who later shot two police officers.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said his investigation is focusing on whether there were bribes involved in the release of Cecil Brookins.

News of Zappala's inquiry caught other investigating officials off guard, including the county police and a committee headed by former U.S. Attorney Tom Corbett, which has been asked to issue a report within 45 days.

"Brookins is a mid- to high-level drug dealer," Zappala said. "We want to make a determination to our own satisfaction as to whether he was intentionally released, possibly by drug dealers paying somebody off."

Zappala added that his office is also looking into the possibility that someone at the jail made a mistake in releasing Brookins and covered it up.

Brookins, 46, is charged with six counts of attempted homicide and numerous other offenses, including drug and weapons violations.

Police were serving an arrest warrant for drugs at Brookins' house when he opened fire following a three-hour standoff, police said. Two officers were shot.

Brookins was shot five times as police returned fire. Both officers and Brookins survived their wounds.

It was later determined that Brookins should never have been released, having served only 14 days of a 29- to 58-month sentence for a confrontation with police while carrying an unlicensed gun and wearing a bulletproof vest.

Defense attorney James Ecker said Wednesday he has not been contacted by investigators about a possible bribe involving his client and Zappala has offered no evidence a bribe was ever offered.

County executive Jim Roddey, who appointed the Corbett Committee, said the county police and the committee are the only ones that should be investigating Brookins' release.

"If he has information that somebody bribed someone, that information should be turned over to county police," said County Executive Jim Roddey.

County Manager Bob Webb said the county police investigation would be completed in three to four weeks and a separate investigation would result in the duplication of interviews and reviews of documents.

Webb also pointed out that Zappala is already a member of the Corbett Committee.

Zappala said his investigation should not be considered a turf battle.

"I don't look at it that way," he said. "If that's the way they want to handle it, as long as it gets done, it's fine with me."

Meanwhile, Tom Corbett met with city officials Wednesday. Corbett said his investigation focuses on what happened specifically in Brookins' release, and secondly, on the system as a whole.

"We're looking at just the whole policy and procedure within the criminal justice system as to the intake and release of prisoners between the county court and the county jail," he said.

Warden Calvin Lightfoot had said Brookins was released because a county judge's order to move him to the state prison got to the jail two days late - after another judge had ordered Brookins released.

County Judge Lawrence O'Toole said his records indicate the jail was notified of the transfer before Brookins' release.

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