Pittsburgh police road-rage lawsuit goes to jury

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An eight-member jury in U.S. District Court must decide whether the city of Pittsburgh was at fault when then-detective Bradley Walker choked a Squirrel Hill man in a May 1, 2010, road rage incident.

Attorneys for Jarret Fate, 32, and for the city made their closing arguments this morning, with both sides agreeing that Mr. Walker should not have responded to a fender bender by grabbing the other driver by the throat, chasing him down when he fled and waving his gun around.

And they stipulated to 32 citizen complaints against Mr. Walker during a 17-year career that ended with his firing and subsequent criminal conviction on three misdemeanors following the incident.

"The city of Pittsburgh watched him attack person after person after person," said Josh Autry, representing Mr. Fate. "They put him back on the street, and he attacked Jarret Fate."

Assistant city solicitor Mike Kennedy said the city of Pittsburgh wasn't responsible and shouldn't have to pay.

"This was a purely personal incident for Mr. Walker," said assistant city Solicitor Mike Kennedy. "Our police officers are paid to keep the peace, to investigate crimes, to enforce the law. Mr. Walker wasn't doing any of that."

Mr. Kennedy told the jury that Mr. Walker was off duty and driving his son to work when the incident happened on a ramp from the Parkway to Oakland. He didn't identify himself as a police officer, and didn't arrest or cite Mr. Fate.

Mr. Autry countered that Mr. Walker asked for Mr. Fate's license, registration and insurance, used his city-approved gun to intimidate Mr. Fate and onlookers and then called his home station -- and not 911 or the station that covers Oakland -- to report the event.

The plaintiff has to prove that the city showed "deliberate indifference" to Mr. Walker's past behavior, and Mr. Kennedy said that didn't happen.

During his career, Mr. Walker was reprimanded, transferred, sent to counseling and ordered to undergo anger management, and hit with one-day suspensions "on several occasions" before his 2010 firing.

"Let's say he had been terminated after [a 2007 domestic] incident with his wife," said Mr. Kennedy. "Bradley Walker, with a job as a police officer in the balance, still at risk, is not as dangerous as a person fired from the police bureau two years earlier and still able to carry that gun."

Mr. Autry said the city should have done more to curb a man who had showed a "pattern of choking, pattern of off-duty rage, pattern of road rage. With Detective Walker, they didn't protect the citizens. They endangered them."

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab dismissed as defendants former police Chief Nate Harper and current Assistant Chief George Trosky, saying that a reasonable jury could not find that they had been indifferent and were responsible for Mr. Walker's actions.

He said a jury just decide whether the city was responsible. The dismissal of the individual defendants eliminates any punitive damages claim.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.


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