Zappala criticizes Pittsburgh officials for releasing too much information on sisters' murders

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Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Wednesday criticized the Pittsburgh city administration and police department for the number of leaks of information over the last month in the investigation into the shooting deaths of two sisters in East Liberty.

"There was entirely too much information put out," he said. "[Obtaining] a confession at this point would be problematic."

Allen D. Wade, 43, is charged with criminal homicide in the slayings of his neighbors, Susan and Sarah Wolfe, who were found Feb. 7 in their Chislett Street home.

Zappala blames city officials for information leak

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. used a news conference Wednesday to criticize city officials for leaks of information in the investigation of the shooting deaths of the Wolfe sisters. (Video by Nate Guidry; 3/12/2014)

Over the course of the investigation leading up to Wade's arrest last week, information was released detailing how officers tracked the suspect through video surveillance systems throughout the neighborhood, as well as detailed information about how the bodies were found and the crime scene.

According to the district attorney's office, "The acting commanders of major crimes were repeatedly advised of the problems with leaking this type of information including but not limited to damaging the integrity of the investigation, revealing to the alleged killer the evidence against him and plans being made to bring him into custody and otherwise violating the rules of professional conduct."

Major Crimes Lt. Daniel Herrmann said he could not speak on behalf of the entire bureau but he could offer his opinions on the case: "I can say that, as the acting commander, when the murders occurred, I not only declined to comment on investigative facts but asked media outlets in the Pittsburgh area not to report sensitive information in reference to the Wolfe homicides. It was immediately apparent that any investigative evidence, released to the public, could seriously jeopardize the investigation."

The lieutenant said he does not understand why people working in law enforcement would leak information through unofficial channels and that he felt doing so jeopardized the investigation. He also said he felt the media "displayed a defiant and irresponsible attitude."

"This was a local homicide investigation that needed the support of the media. It was not a Watergate cover-up."

On Feb. 24, because the leaks continued, Mr. Zappala's chief of staff, Rebecca Spangler, called Kevin Acklin, chief of staff to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, but was unable to reach him. He said a message was left with Mr. Acklin's administrative assistant.

Mr. Acklin did not return the call, and so Mr. Zappala asked his spokesman, Mike Manko, to contact the new police department spokeswoman, Sonya Toler, to remind her about the rules of professional conduct in disseminating information in a police investigation.

According to an email released by the mayor's office Wednesday, Mr. Manko wrote to Ms. Toler the afternoon of March 3 -- the day the criminal complaint was filed against Wade.

In his message, Mr. Manko said he expected new developments in the case, and reminded Ms. Toler of the "rules of professional responsibility that govern prosecutors and lawyers" in Pennsylvania.

"These rules put strict limits on what can and cannot be said about investigations and defendants in criminal matters," he wrote.

On Wednesday, Ms. Toler said she had never received any such message, even though Mr. Peduto's spokesman, Timothy McNulty, was able to produce it.

Mr. Zappala criticized the city's administration.

"You need structure, and you need leadership," Mr. Zappala said. "No disrespect to the acting chief, but she's the acting chief. My problem is with the city administration.

"There's no upside to telling a murderer before he's apprehended everything you know."

Mr. Peduto responded Wednesday afternoon that Mr. Zappala should have taken his concerns directly to him.

"If the D.A. is concerned that there is a leak, or he is concerned about our command structure, then I would ask that he reach out to me," Mr. Peduto said, "the top of the command structure -- directly so we can start our own investigation internally."

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published March 12, 2014 12:12 PM


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