Avalon officer 'banned' from Bellevue

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What began as a dustup between two policemen from neighboring towns escalated yesterday into something bigger and uglier.

Avalon's Tony Morris, who describes himself as the only black police officer in the North Hills, was banned from answering emergency calls in neighboring Bellevue by order of Bellevue's council president, Jim Scisciani.

Mr. Scisciani acknowledged during a council meeting last night that he sent a letter to Avalon's mayor, saying Officer Morris is prohibited from responding to calls in Bellevue. Police officers in the towns back each other up on significant cases.

Other council members said they had nothing to do with the letter, and they did not agree with it.

Mr. Scisciani would not say why he singled out Officer Morris.

"It's part of an ongoing investigation and I'm not going to discuss it," he said.

But the root of the trouble goes back to July 21. Bellevue Police Chief Michael Bookser, 57, arrested Officer Morris that day, accusing him of disorderly conduct.

Officer Morris, 27, and a group of young men had set up a table in Bellevue's business district to raise money for a sick teenager. Chief Bookser has given different accounts of what led to the arrest, but the most consistent one is that Officer Morris stood in the middle of Lincoln Avenue, "yelling and screaming" as he solicited donations while wearing a police vest and badge.

Witnesses said the chief's allegations were false.

"That never happened," said Aaron Westerman, 21. "Tony wasn't disorderly. The chief just seemed angry because Tony was there raising money."

The disorderly conduct charge, a summary offense, has not yet been heard by a judge. But Mr. Scisciani, describing himself as acting mayor, nonetheless sent a letter to Avalon Mayor Dave Haslett. It said Officer Morris was not welcome to exercise his police powers in Bellevue.

Officer Morris said the Bellevue council president has no authority to stop him from enforcing the law, so he will ignore him.

"If somebody needs me in an emergency, I will respond to the call," Officer Morris said. "I also have an obligation to enforce the law, and I'm going to do that."

He said he believes there are racial overtones to the letter singling him out.

"They would not have done this to any other police officer," Officer Morris said. "Any other police officer would not have been arrested for helping in a fund-raising effort."

Mr. Scisciani said the suggestion of racial bias was unfair. "Don't even bring that up," he said.

Chief Bookser's staff said he was on vacation yesterday and could not be reached.

A dozen Bellevue residents attended the council meeting and a handful spoke on behalf of Officer Morris, calling him a gentleman and a dedicated officer.

Bellevue resident Donna Manjack said the chief's claims against Officer Morris were "petty," but had the potential to hurt his career in law enforcement.

Councilman Joe Kovacs told those speaking on Officer Morris' behalf that they should not rely on news accounts of the confrontation. He said a formal investigation would have to be done to find the truth.

Mr. Kovacs said he had called the state attorney general to ask about the possibility of the agency investigating.

Milan Simonich can be reached at msimonich@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1956.


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