Hissrich upholds firing of police sergeant accused of using excessive force
March 2, 2016 4:28 PM
This is a screen shot that shows Heinz Field event staff talking to Gabriel Despres, center, before he is approached by police.
By Jonathan D. Silver / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A police watchdog group said the firing by Pittsburgh’s new public safety director of a controversial police sergeant was appropriate, while his union said it would take the matter to arbitration.
Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich on Tuesday upheld the firing of Stephen Matakovich, who has been criminally charged in connection with his violent arrest of an intoxicated man last year.
“The [Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board] recognizes that the conduct demonstrated by Mr. Matakovich will not be tolerated by the police administration,” board executive director Elizabeth Pittinger said Wednesday.
Sonya Toler, the public safety spokeswoman, said Wednesday that Mr. Hissrich “decided to uphold the firing of Sgt. Matakovich. This is an internal, disciplinary matter that we are prohibited from discussing any further.”
Mr. Matakovich was notified of the firing through a certified letter. The termination was effective immediately, Ms. Toler said.
Mr. Matakovich, 47, of Brookline was a 22-year veteran of the bureau.
He was suspended with pay in mid-December after the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office filed criminal charges of simple assault and official oppression for the alleged assault against Gabriel Despres, then 19, on Nov. 28 during the WPIAL playoffs.
Stadium security camera footage shows Mr. Matakovich pushing Mr. Despres to the ground with two hands then striking him several times. Mr. Despres was treated at a hospital for a bloody nose before spending the night in the Allegheny County Jail.
District Judge Robert Ravenstahl dismissed both charges at a preliminary hearing Feb. 1, but the DA’s office refiled the charges last week and tacked on perjury and submitting a false report. At that point the city stopped paying the officer.
“We have faith in both Sgt. Matakovich’s criminal defense attorneys as well as the criminal justice system. The FOP will continue the internal process, which is arbitration at this point,” said FOP president Howard McQuillan.
Police Chief Cameron McLay had suspended Sgt. Matakovich for five days pending termination, but the former sergeant appealed to Mr. Hissrich, who weighed testimony and evidence before rendering his decision.
Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.
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