Officers' promotions will stand, Pittsburgh mayor says

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The promotions of three Pittsburgh police officers who have faced domestic abuse accusations will stand, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said yesterday, in an announcement that upset women's groups, even though the mayor promised new policies against family violence.

   
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Mayor Luke Ravenstahl comments on the police promotions

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Mr. Ravenstahl said demoting the officers back to their prior ranks "would have failed in court, and we obviously as taxpayers would have been on the hook to pay the fees and the costs of litigation. ... I thought it was prudent to protect the interests of taxpayers" and then put together domestic violence policies "that will address the issue from here on out."

The Fraternal Order of Police had threatened to sue if the men were demoted.

Bryan Campbell, the FOP's attorney, said the mayor's decision reflected that he "can't just go in and say, 'I'm having second thoughts about it, the promotions made,'" absent misconduct or incompetence.

"I think the mayor, while fearful of losing a lawsuit, has lost the trust of the women of Pittsburgh," said Jeanne Clark of Squirrel Hill, a member of the state board of the National Organization for Women. "We're looking at various ways in which we can force the city to do the right thing. ... The FOP isn't the only one that can sue."

She said the promotions would be a topic at a NOW state board meeting tomorrow.

Police Cmdr. George Trosky, Lt. Charles Rodriguez and Sgt. Eugene F. Hlavac will remain in the posts they were granted June 18, despite a dismissed 1997 domestic violence charge against the first, a pending simple assault charge against the second, and two domestic calls this year to the apartment of the third.

The mayor knew about Cmdr. Trosky's history when he approved his promotion, and said yesterday that was outweighed by "his entire 30-year portfolio, and the fact that he has been a good officer with no history whatsoever in the last eight to 10 years." He could have demoted the commander without fear of a lawsuit, but opted not to.

He maintained that Police Chief Nate Harper didn't tell him about incidents surrounding Lt. Rodriguez or Sgt. Hlavac prior to the promotions.

"Had I had the opportunity to examine their cases, or look at the issues prior to the promotions," he said, "perhaps we would not be sitting here today."

He said he verbally reprimanded Chief Harper for "the general lack of communication that has happened. It's been very frustrating, and I've expressed that to the chief, and it will never happen again."

He said there would be no other discipline against the chief, but said the promoted officers "will be closely monitored."

Councilman William Peduto, a mayoral foe, said Mr. Ravenstahl was "blaming the chief for these measures, when, if they would just use professional management, we wouldn't continue to see this. ... We're running out of swords for other people to fall on for [the mayor's] mistakes."

Cynthia McCormick, chair of the joint city-county Women's Commission, which asked for a reversal of the promotions in a meeting with the mayor Wednesday, said the group is "very disappointed with the mayor's decision. However, representatives from the Women's Commission will be working with the mayor on revisions of policies and procedures to make sure that similar situations are avoided in the future."

Mr. Ravenstahl said the Police Bureau will incorporate the model domestic violence policy recommended by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The policy "tells officers what to expect should they be involved or should one of their colleagues be involved" in a domestic abuse allegation, said Aviva Kurash, manager of the IACP's Police Response to Violence Against Women Project. "It helps the community and victims know what the department expects of their officers and how they will respond."

The city will also add more domestic violence training to existing police course work.

A review panel, whose members were not specified, will vet all candidates for promotion and scrutinize their backgrounds and histories.

The "outrageous situation that allowed this to occur, hopefully, will not continue to exist," said Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board.

The review panel's work might resemble procedures used during the 10-year tenure of former city police Chief Robert W. McNeilly Jr., now the police chief of Elizabeth Township. He said that during much of his 10-year tenure, he solicited written input from supervisors about the individuals up for promotion to sergeant and lieutenant.

"I had it put in writing whether or not their supervisors believed in their promotion," Chief McNeilly said. "Nobody was ever promoted that their supervisors suggested they not be."

He and then-Mayor Tom Murphy also ended the practice of allowing detectives to become commanders, requiring that candidates be either a sergeant or lieutenant. Mr. Ravenstahl's administration changed that rule, allowing Cmdr. Trosky to rise directly from detective.

The mayor said that though he hadn't reviewed Sgt. Hlavac's entire personnel file, he knew "enough to raise concern. There's still concern there."

Phillip DiLucente, Sgt. Hlavac's attorney, said he has requested a meeting with the mayor to discuss "the concerns the mayor may have with my client." Mr. DiLucente also said he will ask the mayor and Chief Harper for an internal investigation into the release to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of personnel information concerning Sgt. Hlavac.

At least three complaints have been filed against Sgt. Hlavac this year -- one in February and two in May -- with the city's Office of Municipal Investigations concerning allegations of unbecoming conduct while he was moonlighting.

OMI Manager Kathy Kraus would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations of Sgt. Hlavac.

During a typical OMI probe, the officer under scrutiny is the last to learn officially of an investigation, although the officer might find out through the departmental grapevine if colleagues are called in for interviews. OMI has 120 days to investigate complaints.

Additionally, in January and March, police visited Sgt. Hlavac's East Liberty apartment in relation to arguments with his then-girlfriend, the first of which left marks on both, according to a police report. After the second incident, he was compelled to undergo three days of anger management counseling. A recommendation by superiors that his contact with the public should be minimized was not implemented.

Sgt. Hlavac was named in federal civil rights lawsuits against the city stemming from a 1995 incident in which he was working a private duty detail at Jack's Bar on South Side and asked for identification from a McKees Rocks pharmacist named Jeffrey Honkus.

According to court papers, an argument ensued, and the city and plaintiff's lawyers differed about who started the subsequent bar fight. Plaintiff's attorney Timothy P. O'Brien and the American Civil Liberties Union alleged in court papers that the officer did "throw Honkus into the side of a police car and then forcefully struck his face on the hood of the vehicle."

The case was settled along with 31 other police misconduct accusations for a city payment totaling $275,000.

Lt. Rodriguez faces a July 5 hearing before Crafton District Judge Dennis Joyce on an allegation that he struck his daughter in April.

"Certainly, if those accusations result in a conviction, then naturally the promotion will be rescinded immediately," the mayor said.

Lt. Rodriguez declined comment. Cmdr. Trosky could not be reached for comment.


Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.


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