06/07/2012

Former Pa. chief charged with shoving officer

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

PITTSBURGH — City police officer Eric Doutt has been demoted and is being suspended for a domestic dispute in which he faces criminal charges.

Doutt, 43, the city's previous police chief and a current New Kensington-Arnold School Board member, has been demoted from detective sergeant to patrolman, according to Mayor Larry Milito, who oversees the department.

"There is a suspension coming," Milito said Wednesday.

He said Doutt's suspension, without pay, will take effect Sunday and is indefinite pending the outcome of the charges against him.

Those charges include: simple assault on a police officer; obstructing administration of the law or other governmental function; hindering apprehension or prosecution; and harassment.
May 11 incident

The charges, filed by the state police Tuesday, resulted from an incident that occurred around 1 a.m. May 11 during an alleged domestic dispute between Doutt and his wife, Karen, at their Woodmont Avenue home. The charges were not filed until Tuesday at District Judge Joseph DeMarchis' office in Jeannette.

Arnold Police Chief William Weber called the state police to investigate because the situation involved an altercation between a police officer and other officers in the department, according to Mayor Milito.

State police also filed charges of simple assault and harassment against Karen Doutt, 43.

Eric Doutt responded to Valley News Dispatch attempts to reach him for comment through Weber and fellow officer Joe Nixon, who said Doutt did not want to comment. Doutt also would not stop to talk to a reporter on Woodmont Avenue as he passed by in his patrol car.

A message left by a reporter at the Doutt residence seeking comment from Karen Doutt did not receive a response.

According to the affidavits of probable cause, based on information from state and city police at the scene, an argument between the Doutts prompted Karen Doutt to call 911 for police assistance.

Arnold Sgt. Michael Ondo and Patrolman David Crouse responded to the scene, but the arguing continued for another 10 minutes as the officers tried to keep the Doutts separated, the affidavit states.

When the officers saw Karen Doutt slap her husband on the head, the affidavit states, she was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of Crouse's patrol car.
Volatile confrontation

The affidavit states that Eric Doutt demanded that his wife be released and was told "no" multiple times by Crouse who also told Doutt to get away from the car.

Police say Doutt defied Crouse's orders, opened the rear passenger door of the police car and pulled his wife from the rear seat.

Crouse grabbed Karen Doutt's left arm and her husband held her by her right arm, the affidavit said. Crouse ordered Doutt to release his hold on Karen Doutt and called Ondo over to assist.

He again ordered Doutt to release his hold and at that point, Eric Doutt shoved Crouse in the chest with his right hand and pushed him away from Karen Doutt.

According to the affidavit, state police said that Ondo and Crouse said that due to Eric Doutt's "highly agitated state and demeanor" they felt that if they proceeded with the arrest, they would have to use substantial force to deal with Eric Doutt.

Rather than escalate the situation, the officers decided to release Karen Doutt and deal with her and her husband later, the affidavit states.

Milito said that Eric Doutt then left the scene.

Chief Weber was called and responded to the scene. He declined to comment Wednesday.

District Judge Frank J. Pallone Jr. said he came to the scene after Eric Doutt called him following his wife's 911 call.

"He called me as his attorney ... his family attorney," Pallone told the Valley News Dispatch. "She called 911 and he called me. I advised him to leave the house."

Pallone said: "I was not there during the domestic. It was over by the time I got there. The officers were leaving when I arrived."

Pallone said he was acting strictly as a legal adviser and is not representing Doutt. As a district judge, Pallone is prohibited by law from practicing criminal law in Westmoreland County while he holds the office.

The charges will be mailed to the Doutts, and they will have to turn themselves into authorities at a later date.

Trooper Steve Mirani, the state police spokesman headquartered in Greensburg, said he could not comment on the incident because he didn't know all the details.
Mayor supports officers

Mayor Milito, who took office in January and replaced Doutt with Weber as chief, was asked if he had a problem with how his officers handled the situation.

"Absolutely not," he said. "They handled it the best way they possibly could. They did a fantastic job with it.

"This fellow was their chief at one time and they felt, 'We'll let Chief Weber handle it,' " Milito said. "They felt if they pursued it, there would be a physical altercation and they didn't want that to happen. For the situation they were put in, they handled it well.

"There is a history here," Milito said. "This isn't the first incident — there's been numerous incidents. This isn't the first time my officers have been called up there."

But the mayor conceded that domestic situations such as this, in which a suspect allegedly defies police orders and commits assault on an officer by pushing him or her, are not handled in the same way.

"Was it right to give him a break? Probably not, especially with the history, but that was decision that was made," Milito said. "I left it up to the chief, and that was the decision that was made. We went with our gut."

Milito was asked what message he was trying to send with Doutt's suspension and demotion, which was done following a departmental hearing about a week after the incident.

"The message that I have sent for the last five months is that there is a zero tolerance for ignorance; there is a zero tolerance for misbehavior by officers," he said.

"There is an accountability," Milito said. "And everyone who works for me and works for this city will be accountable to the taxpayers for what they do and what they don't do. I won't accept it any other way."

The mayor said that in the past, questionable behavior by some officers may have been "overlooked."

It will no longer be the case that some things that had been accepted as a "past practice" will be accepted as that now, he said, unless they are in the police contract. He did not elaborate.

Milito acknowledged that there has been a political divide that haunted the department over the years but believes it is fading.

"The morale for this group is getting stronger every day," he said. "They are much more relaxed; they are much more trusting of each other. And I think they really care about what is going on in this city. We're moving forward."

Reprinted with permission from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

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