Citizen Police Review Board says Pittsburgh officer should be fired

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Four months after the city recommended a Pittsburgh police officer be given a written reprimand by the bureau in the June arrest of a school teacher in Homewood, the Citizen Police Review Board called for his termination Tuesday night.

A panel of three review board members -- chairwoman Emma Lucas-Darby, vice chairman Thomas Waters and Karen McLellan -- found Officer Jonathan Gromek's conduct rose to an "egregious act of misconduct," which the bureau disciplines with a five-day suspension pending termination.

The recommendation also states there "remains a question as to the possible criminal culpability regarding the veracity of the affidavit of probable cause" and asked that an outside agency investigate this and similar reports filed by the officer.

The CPRB's findings and recommendations will be sent today to Mayor Bill Peduto and acting police Chief Regina McDonald, who have 30 days to respond and indicate which recommendations are accepted, rejected or implemented with modifications, executive director Elizabeth Pittinger said.

Officer Gromek and a police spokesperson could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A mayoral spokesman declined comment, stating he would need to review the findings first.

Top police bureau administrators recommended in November that Officer Gromek receive a written reprimand after the city's Office of Municipal Investigations found he violated bureau policies. Then-union President Michael LaPorte criticized the punishment at the time as being too harsh.

During a Jan. 16 hearing before the review board, Dennis Henderson, a teacher with the Manchester Academic Charter School, told members he attended a meeting at the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood on June 26 and left to fetch a business card from his car to give to another man.

The pair were standing near his car, Mr. Henderson said, when Officer Gromek sped by in his patrol car, causing them to press up against his car. When he loudly said, "Wow," Officer Gromek turned around and Mr. Henderson asked for his name and badge number so he could file a complaint, according to his testimony.

Mr. Henderson said the officer ordered him to put his hands behind his back, handcuffed him and swept him to the ground, leaving him with a "pretty nice size bruise on my shoulder."

Officer Gromek wrote in the criminal complaint that Mr. Henderson resisted his efforts to arrest him and, at some point, he worried Mr. Henderson was calling for help and large crowds were starting to assemble. Mr. Henderson said parts of Officer Gromek's report were inaccurate.

The teacher was jailed for about 12 hours and charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction of highways -- all of which were withdrawn by District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.

Correction, posted March 27, 2014: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated who recommended discipline against Officer Gromek.


Lexi Belculfine: lbelculfine@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published March 25, 2014 11:46 PM


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