A fugitive in a Pittsburgh domestic violence case remained on the run after two different agencies allowed him to go free despite a warrant for his arrest.
That changed Wednesday night after Allegheny County sheriff's deputies arrested Nire Brown, 18, of Swissvale, following questions from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh police charged Mr. Brown with simple assault and theft on March 14. His girlfriend at the time, Tyra Perkins, told police he slapped her and punched her in the head, then tried to choke her and steal her cell phone, according to a criminal complaint.
Swissvale police stopped Mr. Brown Monday night but released him roughly four hours later, saying they could not find anyone to take him to the Allegheny County Jail.
That followed another incident when Mr. Brown appeared in a courthouse — where he should have been checked for warrants — and was allowed to go free.
Members of the fugitive squad at the sheriff's office were assigned to the case after the Post-Gazette asked questions Wednesday about his release. They arrested Mr. Brown at his Swissvale address shortly before 7 p.m. He remained in the Allegheny County Jail late Wednesday night.
The incident Wednesday prompted criticism from the executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board and a statement from Pittsburgh police, who emphasized that it is their policy not to release people with warrants. It also revealed gaps in the legal system that allow people to go free, despite warrants.
The stop this week
Pittsburgh police learned from the county indexing system, which checks people who have been stopped by police for warrants, about 9:30 p.m. Monday that Swissvale had stopped Mr. Brown and arrested him.
About four hours later, they learned from the index that officers in the city's Zone 2 station in the Hill District and Zone 4 station in Squirrel Hill could not transport Mr. Brown because they were busy, so Swissvale police released him.
Commanders who oversee the Pittsburgh police bureau's warrant office and Zone 4 stations did not respond to comment, and a commander from the Zone 2 station referred comment to the chief's office.
According to state law, someone who is wanted on a warrant "shall be taken by the police officer or sheriff without unnecessary delay before the court in the judicial district where the contempt is alleged to have occurred."
Swissvale police Chief Greg Geppert said his department was notified by the city warrant office Monday night that they did not have anyone free to transport Mr. Brown and "either Swissvale could transport or release him."
"Our guys were tied up," Chief Geppert said. "Absolutely, [Pittsburgh] should have come to pick him up."
The chief said he did not have all of the details and thus could not provide more specifics. He said he would find more details "if I have time" and did not respond to additional requests for comment.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said given Mr. Brown's contacts with the justice system, she was confused as to why Pittsburgh hadn't picked up Mr. Brown even earlier than this week and why he was released on Monday.
"That's unconscionable that this guy -- his whereabouts are known and Pittsburgh could have picked him up. Shame on them," Ms. Pittinger said.
But others questioned whether Chief Geppert was correct in saying that Pittsburgh should have picked up Mr. Brown.
Deputy Pittsburgh police Chief Paul Donaldson said he would not comment on the specifics of the situation because he was still trying to confirm them.
He did say, "It is not the policy of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police to release anyone who is in our custody because we would not want to expose ourselves to civil liabilities."
Either agency could have contacted the Allegheny County sheriff's office for assistance transporting Mr. Brown to the jail. But neither did, according to Kevin Kraus, chief deputy with the Allegheny County sheriff's office.
The protection-from-abuse order
Monday marked at least the second time Mr. Brown was allowed to go free despite an arrest warrant.
The same day Pittsburgh police obtained the warrant for Mr. Brown — March 14 — Ms. Perkins obtained a temporary protection-from-abuse order against him.
Following normal protocol, someone in the Allegheny County sheriff's office checked Mr. Brown's record to see if there were outstanding warrants, but the new warrant filed by Pittsburgh had not appeared yet in the system, according to departmental logs, Chief Kraus said.
One week later, Swissvale police Officer John Mercalde hand-delivered to Mr. Brown at his home papers ordering him to appear in court regarding the PFA, according to court records. Officer Mercalde did not arrest Mr. Brown on the Pittsburgh warrant.
Chief Geppert would not talk about Officer Mercalde's interactions with Mr. Brown or why he did not arrest him, saying, "I don't know what happened on the case."
It is not clear whether Swissvale police policy instructs officers to check for warrants before delivering PFA paperwork.
Mr. Brown appeared in court for the protection-from-abuse hearing but was not arrested then, either.
Chief Kraus said normal procedure requires a deputy assigned to PFA hearings to check both parties for warrants on the day of the hearing. He said the deputy assigned to those hearings on March 24 has since retired. He declined to name the deputy, and said he could not reach him Wednesday.
Chief Kraus said, "We have no record of him being checked," on the date of the PFA hearing. "He certainly should have been checked for warrants."
Staff Writer Jonathan D. Silver contributed. Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.