Acting police Chief McDonald faces challenges

Restoring public faith in bureau her main focus

On her first day as acting city police chief, Regina McDonald placed three people on paid administrative leave pending the end of an FBI investigation that has tarnished the police bureau's reputation.

Chief McDonald, in a statement that would later be echoed by the police union, said she will focus now on restoring the public's faith in the police bureau.

"I guess you depend on the integrity of the people you put in various positions," she said, adding that people could expect changes in the bureau within a week.

The appointment of Chief McDonald, who served as an assistant chief since 2004, to serve as an interim replacement for police Chief Nate Harper stunned the rank-and-file, with the union president initially pointing out that she oversaw one of the offices from which the FBI removed documents last week. His comments on Thursday were less critical.

When Mayor Luke Ravenstahl -- shortly after a two-hour meeting with the FBI -- asked on Wednesday for Chief Harper's immediate resignation, he was left with few choices that weren't surrounded in controversy.

Both Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson and Assistant Chief of Operations Maurita Bryant had credit cards listed in their name in connection with accounts at the Greater Pittsburgh Police Federal Credit Union, which is not an authorized depository for city funds. Chief Donaldson has said he did not know about the card until FBI agents told him about it, and Chief Bryant, who is out of town attending a conference, could not be reached for comment.

Assistant Chief of Investigations George Trosky has a history that includes allegations of domestic violence that were dropped when the accuser did not appear in court, but his promotion nevertheless angered women's groups.

Mr. Ravenstahl said he plans to look outside the bureau for someone to replace Chief Harper, although he would also consider elevating someone from within.

"I think given the situation if we were able to find somebody from the outside to come and put a new vision or standpoint on the bureau, that would be my preference," he said.

Still, he stood by Chief McDonald.

"I have no reason to believe -- in fact I'm confident -- that in no way was she conflicted or that she did anything wrong," the mayor said.

During her times as assistant chief of administration, Chief McDonald oversaw the special events office and, until Chief Harper took control of it in 2010 for undisclosed reasons, the personnel and finance office.

FBI agents removed documents from both locations in what Deputy Chief Donaldson said he thinks is a probe into allegations that funds have been misappropriated within the bureau.

The Post-Gazette has learned that at least one check for $5,675.52 from the University of Pittsburgh to the police bureau was deposited in September 2009 into an "I.P.F." account at the credit union. The account's address matched that of the North Side police headquarters.

Another account at the credit union was listed as "Special Events c/o Sandy Ganster." Ms. Ganster is manager of the bureau's personnel and finance department. Special events is the police office that handles scheduling for off-duty work.

Chief McDonald said she met with the FBI on Thursday morning. "I am not a target," she said. "The target is personnel and finance."

The acting chief declined to specify which people were the targets.

Also Thursday, she placed Officer Tonya Montgomery-Ford, who works in Chief Bryant's office, and civilians Tammy Davis and Kim Montgomery, who work in personnel and finance, on paid administrative leave pending the end of the FBI investigation. Ms. Ganster went on leave of her own volition, and administrators have not yet decided whether to place her on a similar leave, the mayor said.

Warner Macklin III, who is handling media inquiries for Officer Montgomery-Ford, said, "The only thing I know is she's saddened but will follow the direction of the memo that was given to her by the acting chief's office."

He said Officer Montgomery-Ford is deciding whether to hire an attorney and has not been contacted by the FBI or the U.S. attorney's office.

Ms. Montgomery, Officer Montgomery-Ford's mother and a high school classmate of Mr. Harper, could not be reached for comment, nor could Ms. Davis.

Officer Montgomery-Ford and Ms. Davis are listed as organizers, along with Mr. Harper, Sgt. Barry Budd and Zone 2 Commander Eric Holmes, on incorporation papers for Diverse Public Safety Consultants, a company that Mr. Harper said has not yet brought in any revenue.

Mr. Ravensthal has hired an outside consultant, former Washington County District Attorney Steven M. Toprani, to review the city's policies on secondary employment in light of that business and revelations that Commander Holmes worked a second job as interim police chief at Slippery Rock University while he was a sergeant.

Chief McDonald said the number of accounts and who had access to them is part of the FBI investigation, which she did not want to jeopardize. She said she was not sure how much money flowed through them but her understanding is that the accounts have since been closed.

She declined to say when she learned about the accounts or how she found out about them.

Chief McDonald, city public safety director Mike Huss and Mr. Ravenstahl have said they expect more changes to be made at the bureau.

"I don't expect any radical and/or massive changes," the mayor said. "There are some things that we are going to take a look at and clearly tighten up so there may be some minor changes, but I would characterize them as minor in nature rather than major in nature, and some of those changes were made today."

Detective Michael Benner, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1, the union representing officers, said the rank-and-file is trying to reserve judgment.

"What we know is from you guys," he told reporters. "We're still on the outside looking in."

About 75 officers attended a meeting of the police union Thursday night.

After the meeting, union president Sgt. Michael LaPorte said, "At this point, we're placing our faith in the public safety director. People are saying stuff to our officers out in the streets. We just want to, as quickly as possible, restore integrity to the department."

This story was written by Liz Navratil based on her reporting and that of Jonathan D. Silver, Moriah Balingit and Molly Born.


First Published February 22, 2013 5:00 AM


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