Harper asked to resign as Pittsburgh police chief

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Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said at his press conference this evening that "as of today, I have learned enough to ask [Police Chief Nate Harper] for his resignation."

He said he learned the facts at a two-hour meeting with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office today. He said the bureau called for the meeting, and said he was told that he wasn't a target of their investigation.

"At this point, it gave me enough, and I learned enough to know that it was time to ask Chief Harper to resign," the mayor said, adding that Mr. Harper resigned and "is no longer a city employee."

"Assistant Chief Regina McDonald will be [the chief] in the acting capacity as of now," he said. Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson is "on his way to vacation," he added.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he had both a city and personal attorney with him at the meeting.

Over the past week, federal investigators serving subpoenas have taken paperwork from both police headquarters on the North Side and the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union in the West End as part of what appears to be a probe of the bureau's special events and personnel and finance offices.

FBI Spokeswoman Kelly Kochamba could not be reached for comment.

Neither the FBI nor the IRS has publicly explained what is being investigated, although Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson has said he believes the inquiry is in response to internal allegations of misappropriation of funds from the offices.

Attorney Robert G. DelGreco Jr. released a statement on behalf of Mr. Harper:

"It is apparent to me that the ongoing distractions and investigations make it no longer possible for Nate Harper to dedicate the time and energy necessary to faithfully discharge his duties as Police Chief. Consequently, it is with a heavy heart that he has decided to retire as Police Chief for the City of Pittsburgh effective immediately. He has asked me to convey that God has blessed him and that he is truly appreciative to have been able to serve as a police officer for 36 years and as the Chief of Police for the last 6 and a half years. Chief Harper wants to thank Mayor Ravenstahl for putting his trust in him, his fellow police officers whose friendship and service he has always valued and the citizens of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County for their support and cooperation during his tenure."

Pressed for details of the meeting with the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office, Mr. Ravenstahl said at his press conference that "there were questions asked, yes. They didn't present me with anything.

"I'm not going to jeopardize their investigation. It was pertaining to the investigation that is ongoing. I'm not a target.

"We've been extremely cooperative with authorities and will continue to be so."

He said he "was happy to answer any questions, will continue to do that. ... Clearly we want to get to the bottom of anything and everything."

He said a search for a permanent replacement will "begin immediately. ... We would like to have a permanent replacement as quickly as possible." He said he wants to be "diligent and thorough and get the right person for the job."

He said he expected that the police rank and file would continue to serve the residents well. "My belief is that as they always do, they will continue to rise up and do great work."

He called it a day of sadness.

Mr. Harper "rose up through the ranks in this city. There are a lot of people in this city who have a tremendous amount of respect for him, including me."

"The chief is somebody, as I mentioned, who dedicated his life to this city, and to public service."

In response to an emailed question about the chief's status, police bureau spokeswoman Diane Richard wrote: "You will have to contact the Mayor's Office. I just learned of this myself."

Pittsburgh city auditor Michael Lamb, one of Mr. Ravenstahl's opponents for the mayorship, released a statement even before the mayor held a press conference announcing his decision publicly.

"Just yesterday the Mayor was standing by the Police Chief he appointed, defending him of any wrongdoing," Mr. Lamb said in the written statement.

In response to the news, mayoral candidate and Councilman Bill Peduto Tweeted, "Yesterday, [Mr. Ravenstahl] said he had full confidence and refused to be 'judge & jury.' What changed in 24 hours?"

He said there are still more questions Mr. Ravenstahl has not answered.

"The ongoing issues and investigations into the Police Department go much further than just Chief Harper and his dismissal does not solve the issue at hand," Mr. Lamb said in the statement. "We still need answers from the Mayor as to what exactly his role in the investigated bank account was, what he knew about the account and when he learned of it. We need to know who was ultimately behind the account and who had access to it. We need to know where the money came from for it and what it was used to purchase."

Council President Darlene Harris, who was briefed on the situation only after the press conference, said she could not weigh in on the mayor's decision because she did not have enough information. She said he was not permitted to share anything about the information Mr. Ravenstahl learned that prompted him to ask the chief to step down.

"I cannot agree or disagree because I have not been briefed on what's going on," she said. "I know no more now -- other than the chief's resigned -- than I knew before."

Councilman Ricky Burgess said he also was not privy to the information, but trusted the Mr. Ravenstahl made the right decision because the mayor had "lost confidence in the chief."

"I think the mayor has acted prudently, wisely and appropriately," he said.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, the chair of the public safety committee, said she had been briefed on some of what the mayor learned today, but declined to comment on it.

"The mayor had some clear vision of what [investigators] were looking for," she said. "It's very sad. It's very disappointing ... but a very necessary decision was made."

When asked if she knew if anyone else in the bureau had been fired or asked to resign, she said, "From what I'm understanding, it seems to be somewhat isolated."

Beth Pittinger, the executive director of the Citizens Police Review Board, agreed with the mayor's decision to ask the chief to step down, saying it was impossible for him to lead the bureau when he was mired in scandal. Still, she greeted today's news with "a very heavy heart."

"I think it's a tragedy for the city that it came to this," she said. A lot of people are feeling a bit perplexed and betrayed. The chief brought a lot of hope to the department."

Still, she said the city has more work to do to clean house and believes an overhaul of the bureau is in order.

The resignation "of the chief of police is just one part of this," she said.

Councilman Patrick Dowd echoed Ms. Pittinger's comments, saying there was more to be done. He believes the bureau needs to focus more resources on patrols.

"The mayor has removed the chief but he still hasn't answered the question of how he's going to change the management of the bureau," he said.

At the Stanton Heights home of Mr. Harper, two SUVs were parked in the driveway this evening before the start of the mayor's press confrence.

The woman who answered the door said the former chief was not home.

A blue light, the mark of an officer's home, lit the front yard of the El Paso street residence.

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Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Twitter: @LexiBelc. Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com First Published February 20, 2013 10:15 PM


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