Investigation clears one of two officers linked to former Pittsburgh chief Harper
August 16, 2014 12:00 AM
By Rich Lord and Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The city of Pittsburgh’s internal investigations unit has completed probes of two Bureau of Police employees who were closely associated with imprisoned former chief Nate Harper, but only after apparently losing track of investigative material, and conducting fresh reviews without the subjects’ involvement.
Formally exonerated following a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette inquiry to the city is police Cmdr. Eric Holmes. His moonlighting job as an interim director of campus safety for Slippery Rock University during 2007 and 2008, while he worked as a city sergeant, came under scrutiny amid the unfolding police bureau scandal last year.
Still awaiting clarification is long-suspended Officer Tonya L. Montgomery-Ford, who has been on leave since February 2013, and was the subject of a review of her private business dealings with the bureau after the Post-Gazette reported on them.
Both were partners with Harper in Diverse Public Safety Consultants, an embryonic consultancy that was dissolved after the Post-Gazette reported its existence in February 2013. This week both of their attorneys blasted a city Office of Municipal Investigations process in which investigations done last year were mislaid, and then completed this year without any participation by the subjects.
“On an investigation this important, to just lose the file, that’s unacceptable,” said Patrick Thomassey, attorney for Cmdr. Holmes. “It’s the height of incompetence.”
Officer Montgomery-Ford “is asking them, ‘Am I a witness or a target, or is there any investigation?’ ” said her attorney, Sam Cordes. “They haven’t in any way told her that.”
The Post-Gazette reported in February 2013 on Cmdr. Holmes’ former relationship with Slippery Rock, and on Officer Montgomery-Ford’s involvement with businesses that sold knapsacks and catered dinners to the bureau.
Cmdr. Holmes, 45, began working as interim director of campus safety for Slippery Rock, his alma mater, in August 2007, at the same time he held a full-time position working as a Pittsburgh police sergeant. At the school, he earned nearly $81,000 working “40-hours-plus” until he left the job in July 2008.
Mr. Thomassey indicated that his client gave OMI all records on those matters last year. “I’ve never seen a guy keep such meticulous notes,” he said. He added that in June 2013, OMI conducted an hours-long recorded interview with Cmdr. Holmes, and that the commander was told the case was closed.
Several weeks ago, OMI sent Cmdr. Holmes an email, Mr. Thomassey said, asking him to do it all again. The commander called OMI to ask why, and was told that his file was lost.
“I can’t believe that they lost his file!” Mr. Thomassey said. He did not cooperate with the renewed investigation, and was in the dark as to its result Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, after the Post-Gazette asked the city for a status report, Cmdr. Holmes received an email “saying that he’s been cleared of everything,” Mr. Thomassey said.
Mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said that OMI manager Deborah Walker, who was selected in February to head the office, “found that there was nothing in the database about either case” involving Cmdr. Holmes or Officer Montgomery-Ford.
“All of the investigators use this one database, and there was nothing in that database,” Mr. McNulty said.
If investigative work was done but kept off the OMI database, said Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 attorney Bryan Campbell, “That should not have been done. … I’ve never heard of that and I wouldn’t know what circumstances would justify that.”
Mr. McNulty said he was unaware of any effort to reach out to Kathy Kraus, who was the OMI manager under former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, to ask her where the files were.
Ms. Kraus declined to comment on the cases.
Mr. McNulty said that Ms. Walker “then opened investigations into both matters.” He said they were completed “recently.”
He said he could not speak to OMI practices under Mr. Ravenstahl, but that under Mayor Bill Peduto the internal affairs office puts “every last case and every last complaint that is lodged with OMI into the database.”
OMI’s 2013 probe of Officer Montgomery-Ford also included an interview and a document request, according to Mr. Cordes.
Officer Montgomery-Ford, 44, is one of three bureau employees who have been on paid leave for some 18 months, following news about Diverse Public Safety Consultants and the diversion of checks from the bureau. A fourth bureau employee, Officer Montgomery-Ford’s mother, Kim Montgomery, was placed on leave and has since retired.
Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said Friday, “The police bureau has not been notified of anything from OMI” regarding the three employees who remain on leave. “If it is complete, there is no way that I can confirm that.”
Early this year, the then-president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Sgt. Michael LaPorte, and Officer Montgomery-Ford went to OMI demanding access to her file.
They were told that there was no record in the computer system of any investigation involving her last year, according to Mr. Cordes. But they were also given the name of an investigator who had conducted the probe.
Officer Montgomery-Ford sued the city in June, demanding a return to duty and payment of damages.
Mr. Cordes scoffed at the claims that OMI under Mr. Ravenstahl conducted an investigation last year that would justify the lengthy suspension. “They lost it. We sued them. Then they conduct another investigation. In that investigation, they did not talk to my client.
“I’ve never heard of that before,” he said.
He said he will argue in court that the loss of the original investigative materials requires that the court presume that they favor Officer Montgomery-Ford.
Mr. Campbell said that the FOP will “take the argument that there was an investigation done. The fact that they lost it and/or didn’t enter it into the system, that’s misconduct on them.”
He said that the officer should be told of the result of the probe.
Harper is serving an 18-month prison sentence for conspiracy to commit theft from a federally funded program and failure to file tax returns.
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