Whitaker officer on trial for extortion from traffic stop

Danielle Stillwell had been in Braddock to take a real estate licensing exam the evening of June 27, 2012, and got lost on the way back to her Jefferson Hills home.

When she got to the Rankin Bridge, the young woman driving her fiance’s late-model white BMW with tinted windows regained her bearings and, after stopping at the light, turned left to head toward Kennywood and home.

Instead, what appeared to be an unmarked police car activated its red-and-blue lights behind her.

When she pulled over, Ms. Stillwell peered in her side-view mirror, wondering what she might have done wrong. The man approaching was wearing khaki cargo shorts and a blue T-shirt. She saw no badge.

"I was kind of nervous,“ Ms. Stillwell testified Thursday. ”[It was] a bad area. I was scared.“

She pulled away, immediately called 911 to report what was happening and planned to pull over a short time later in a well-lit, public spot at the McDonald’s by Kennywood.

What followed, though, triggered a cascade of events that led to undercover Whitaker police Officer William Davis on trial this week on charges of false swearing, criminal attempt to commit extortion, perjury and official oppression.

According to Ms. Stillwell, Officer Davis followed her as she pulled away. She got caught at a red light near Kennywood and was forced to stop. Officer Davis got out of his car and raced to the front of hers with his gun drawn, she said. He demanded she open her window and unlock her door, but before she could do either, Officer Davis used his service weapon to break out the driver’s side window, prosecutors said.

Ms. Stillwell was told to lie on the ground and was taken into custody.

She gave permission for officers to search the car and tried to explain she didn’t realize he was an officer.

“He made it very clear he was,” she testified. “He told me, ’I bet you know I’m a real cop now.’ ”

Ms. Stillwell was taken to the Whitaker police station where Officer Davis told her she could be charged with felony fleeing and eluding.

However, when she said it would ruin her career in real estate, he spoke to his police chief and agreed not to charge her if she paid for repairs to Officer Davis’ gun that had been damaged, prosecutors said.

She filled out a written statement to that effect, but within days after receiving a couple of phone calls and text messages from Officer Davis about the repairs, she changed her mind.

Ms. Stillwell called the Allegheny County district attorney’s office to file a complaint about him instead.

When Officer Davis learned she went to the DA’s office, he charged Ms. Stillwell by summons.

Assistant district attorney Jonathan Fodi said Officer Davis abused his position as a police officer.

Fodi said Officer Davis lied on the affidavit of probable cause that he wrote to charge Ms. Stillwell.

But defense attorney William Difenderfer accused Ms. Stillwell, who now is married and uses the last name Newlon, of looking for quick money from a civil rights lawsuit against Officer Davis.

During his opening, Mr. Difenderfer agreed with almost the entirety of the prosecution’s set of facts, but it was the motivation he challenged.

He said his client was working an undercover drug operation and had been on the lookout for a car similar to the one Ms. Stillwell was driving. When Officer Davis approached the vehicle near Kennywood, he could not see through the tinted windows, except that a hand was reaching toward the center console, which turned out to be Ms. Stillwell attempting to unlock the car’s doors, the lawyer continued.

“Police officer safety is paramount,” Mr. Difenderfer said.

“He commands her to roll down her window. Of course he has his gun drawn for his safety.”

He said Officer Davis is a good police officer and told the jury to consider his client’s state of mind at the time to determine if his actions were “reasonable or intentionally deceitful.”

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

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