Brentwood man files complaint over arrest by Pittsburgh police
June 13, 2014 12:28 AM
Attorney Todd Hollis mimics the behavior of his client Paul Anthony Parrish after a police chase which ended in his arrest.
By Rich Lord and Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After a short chase in 2012, a Pittsburgh police officer hit a Brentwood man in the head twice with a Glock pistol and hauled him through the open window of a car, after which officers punched him, according to a video and other records of the event obtained Thursday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The incident on July 17, 2012, led to hospital treatment for the subject of the chase, Paul Anthony Parrish. It is the subject of a Citizen Police Review Board evaluation, and last month a complaint was submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice, according to attorney Todd Hollis, who represents Parrish.
“The police exacted street justice,” said Mr. Hollis, who has prepared a federal civil rights lawsuit, to be filed next week. “They failed in their duty to protect Mr. Parrish.”
Police video shows officer striking man with gun
Attorney Todd Hollis says a video of the police chase of his client, Paul Anthony Parrish, reflects an excessive use of force -- a claim denied by police. (Video by Andrew Rush; 6/13/2014)
The attorney said that the incident raises questions not just about police use of force but also about how officers account for their actions in reports and in court.
“It didn’t look like the guy was resisting,” said Elizabeth Pittinger, the Review Board’s executive director. “I don’t know why [an officer] hit him in the head. … [The gun] very well could’ve discharged, and somebody could’ve been hit.”
The dashboard camera of a trailing police vehicle that arrived when Parrish’s car had stopped recorded the video.
Officer Robert Ross, who made the arrest, said Thursday that a key portion in the chain of events is not captured on film because his own police car and its camera were facing away from the incident.
“If my car was facing the right way, it would have showed that I was giving verbal commands to get back in the vehicle and he wasn’t adhering to any of my commands,” said Officer Ross, adding that he was suspended for three days due to the incident. “I could have shot him, and I probably would have been justified in doing so, the way he pulled from that vehicle,” Officer Ross said.
The video shows Parrish with his hands, upper arms and head entirely out of the driver’s side window for about five seconds before Officer Ross is shown walking to Parrish and striking him on the head with the pistol.
Parrish, 38, has a rap sheet that starts in 1996, including the fatal shooting of a roommate. In and out of prison since, he was released on probation in March 2012. Records show addresses in McKees Rocks and Carrick.
On the night of the incident, Zone 1 officers were responding to a report of shots fired in the Northview Heights public housing complex, according to a criminal complaint (seen below). Officer Ross then saw a white Toyota Camry run a red light on Perrysville Avenue about midnight. The Camry stopped, but soon the driver turned off his lights and drove away.
“He made a bad decision and pulled off,” said Mr. Hollis. “My argument is not that Mr. Parrish didn’t violate the law. Clearly, he did. …. The argument is that he was entitled to civility. ”
Parrish led police on a six-minute, 3-mile chase that involved near misses with other cars, according to a report Officer Ross filed. The chase ended near the north end of the McKees Rocks Bridge.
According to Officer Ross’ report, Parrish “tried to make a U-Turn.” Officer Ross said Thursday that he collided with Parrish’s vehicle after that abrupt turn.
Mr. Hollis, viewing the video, concluded that Officer Ross’ cruiser tapped the back of Parrish’s car, causing the latter to spin 180 degrees.
Officer Ross said he approached Parrish, whose hands were extended out the driver’s window and repeatedly ordered him to put his hands inside the car. He said Parrish yelled something unintelligible and did not comply.
“When I got close to him, he looked like he was going to jump out,” Officer Ross said Thursday. “I’ve had it done to me before. That’s when I hit him.”
Mr. Hollis said that Parrish had his hands out in surrender.
“Both of his hands are out, the police officer grabs his hand and pistol-whips him,” said Mr. Hollis. “That’s not just an emotional assault. That’s a coordinated attack.”
Officer Ross testified at a preliminary hearing in November 2012 that Parrish had a foot on the console, preparing to jump out, but Mr. Hollis said the video shows the Camry started to roll as Parrish was pulled out the window, proving that his foot was on the brake pedal.
Officer Ross stood by his testimony (seen below).
The video shows the officer pulling Parrish out of the open car window, at which point he drops to the ground and out of the camera’s view. Officers can be seen moving their arms and legs around Parrish for about 10 seconds.
Officer Gary Messer wrote in his report on the incident that he “struck Parrish with a closed fist in his left side,” then hit him twice more.
The video shows Officer Ross moving his leg rapidly, but Parrish is not visible at that point.
Mr. Hollis said he believes Officer Ross kicked Parrish in the head. None of the officers’ reports reference a kick.
The video shows no sign of struggle after that. Mr. Hollis said Parrish said he became unconscious during the arrest.
Parrish told the same thing to a doctor who treated him at Allegheny General Hospital the night of the chase, according to medical reports, but the doctor said she doubted that he lost consciousness.
Parrish had a laceration on his head and small bruises, but his vital signs were normal, according to hospital records.
Police reported that they found two shell casings and 17 bundles of marijuana in the car and charged Parrish with eight criminal counts. No charges were filed in relation to the casings, and a magistrate dismissed two drug counts. In a negotiated guilty plea, Parrish admitted to fleeing and eluding, and all other charges were withdrawn.
Though Judge Kevin Sasinoski sentenced Parrish to 11½ to 23 months in jail, he paroled him immediately. Parrish is, however, at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh on a parole violation stemming from the 2012 arrest.
Officer Ross said that the bureau attempted to fire him, but after reviewing the video gave him a three-day suspension without pay — a punishment he protested but did not appeal.
Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler would not discuss the situation or bureau policy. “Internally, we handled the situation appropriately and expediently,” she said.
“In my mind it would justify a termination,” Ms. Pittinger said. She said that although she received the information more than six months after the incident, which could normally preclude an investigation, she will present the matter to the board on June 24.
Mr. Hollis said he only recently received the case and that in early May he submitted a complaint to the Review Board and the Department of Justice. He has not heard back.
An FBI spokesman said it is bureau policy not to confirm nor deny any investigation.
Mr. Hollis said the complaint he plans to file in U.S. District Court will allege excessive force, failure to render medical aid, assault and battery by the officers, and inadequate training and supervision by the city.
“We had hoped that we would be able to resolve this without filing a lawsuit,” Mr. Hollis said. He added that he wants reasonable compensation for Parrish and hopes “that the city of Pittsburgh will take significant action in dealing with the police officers.”
In 1996, Parrish pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five to 10 years, after he fatally shot James Youngblood, 19, of Stowe. While on bail awaiting trial, he stabbed two Bellevue men, for which he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Paroled in 2003, he was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2005 and was sent back to prison.
Mr. Hollis said none of that justified the treatment that the dashboard camera captured. The officers erred in “everything after Parrish stopped his car and surrendered to the police. He was entitled to the same civil liberties that everyone else is entitled to.”
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