Woman stunned officer wasn't charged for years

Policeman suspended after 4 sexual complaints 'There's a man with a badge and a gun in front of you, trying to proposition you. You don't know which way it's going to go.'

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Sarah Smith said she was so frightened after her encounter with Pittsburgh police Officer Adam Skweres during a traffic accident that she immediately reported it to police.

"He said, 'You don't know what a young girl like yourself could do for a guy like me,' " Ms. Smith, 24, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday. "He told me if I ever said anything, 'I'll make sure you never walk, talk or speak again,' and looked right at his gun. I didn't know what to do."

She was further appalled by the police bureau's refusal to act on her report until nearly four years later, when investigators charged the patrolman with offering legal assistance to three women in exchange for sexual favors and attempting to rape a fourth.

"Every day I thought they were just going to brush it under the rug," said Ms. Smith, whose fear of encountering the officer again drove her to move out of the city. "It made me think that they were all the same, that they don't care. ... He was still dealing with other people. How did I know he wasn't still looking for me?"

Police officials on Friday said they began investigating Officer Skweres, 34, in 2008 but did not find enough evidence to take him off the streets until the fourth woman told federal investigators he came to her home in full uniform last Saturday and tried to rape her. The five-year veteran from the Zone 3 station in Allentown was suspended without pay on Thursday, after police charged him with crimes including bribery, coercion, indecent assault and official oppression stemming from the first three cases.

In the fourth case, filed Friday, a woman told investigators Officer Skweres came to her home and began acting strangely, writing things on paper and asking her if she was wearing a wire, according to a criminal complaint. Police said the officer had arrested the woman's boyfriend in November and remained in touch with the couple to use them as informants. He refused her demands for him to leave and instead told her to walk into the kitchen, where he turned on the faucet and wrote on a piece of paper that he wanted her to give him oral sex, the complaint says. When she refused, he asked her if she wanted to help her boyfriend get out of jail.

He said, "Just let me have sex with you," then forced her to perform a sex act on him, cleaned himself with a paper towel and put it in his pocket, telling her to call him at the station before her boyfriend's court date if she had any information for the officer, according to the complaint.

The woman "was terrified and at one point collapsed into a chair," it says.

Officer Skweres was released on a nonmonetary bond on the latest case. Though he was initially jailed on $300,000 bond in the first three cases, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning agreed to place him on house arrest under electronic monitoring pending trial.

The judge's decision came over the urging of Deputy District Attorney Christopher Avetta to keep a cash bond on Officer Skweres because "we have received information there have been threats made to some of the witnesses," he said without providing specifics. Judge Manning ordered the officer's Lincoln Place home to be cleared of all weapons before he returns there and demanded he have no contact with the alleged victims. City police searched the home for evidence Friday night.

Also among the accusers is Melissa Watkins, 27, who said Officer Skweres came to her house in uniform one night in December while her boyfriend was in jail and she was alone in the house with her young daughter.

"He locked my front door and everything, he said 'so no one could bother us,' " Ms. Watkins said. "There's a man with a badge and a gun in front of you, trying to proposition you. You don't know which way it's going to go."

He asked her if she wanted to help her boyfriend, and when she told him she did, he unclipped his holster, unzipped his pants and told her to perform a sex act on him, she said. When she refused and became upset, "he kept trying to tell me to sit down and relax. ... He just kept asking me if I was smart enough to forget the conversation. I said, 'The sooner you leave the sooner it'll be done with, and the sooner I'll forget it.' "

But she didn't. In fact, she said, the encounter still keeps her up at night.

"After that I couldn't even see a cop car without my throat closing up and feeling really nervous, like he could hop out at any time," she said.

Another woman told police in June 2008 that Officer Skweres offered to write her a favorable letter in her child custody case if she would give him oral sex.

With such disturbing charges piling up against him, Officer Skweres should have been kept from interacting with the public even before he was charged, said Alison Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh Action Against Rape.

"I don't want to say that they brushed this aside, but they certainly weren't vehemently investigating this," she said. "Why did this take so long? How many more victims were there while their investigation dragged on for years?"

Police Chief Nate Harper said in an email from his spokeswoman that there was "not enough information during the course of the investigation to substantiate Officer Skweres being taken out of uniform or being moved from his duty location."

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said only that investigators were trying to build their case against the officer and did not want to tip him off.

"It's all a question of evidence and being able to present a case," Mr. Zappala said. "A report or a complaint is one thing. Evidence that can be used in court is another. What's significant is the fact that city police realized there was potentially criminal misconduct and they have set out to set that straight."

The delay in filing charges diminishes the credibility of the accusations, said Officer Skweres' attorney, Phillip DiLucente. He said his client was in the Army Reserves for 12 years and in Iraq for one.

"He's not a person who I believe would have the character of a person to have committed what is charged," Mr. DiLucente said.

Mr. Zappala said the four women do not know each other, and he urged other potential victims to come forward. So did Ms. Watkins.

"It's so gratifying to see it's being followed through and he is being punished," she said. "I felt made to be a victim. I don't ever want to feel like that again."

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Staff writer Paula Reed Ward contributed. First Published February 18, 2012 5:00 AM


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