Judge denies bond for man accused of killing police dog

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Concluding that the man accused of killing a Pittsburgh police dog is a flight risk, an Allegheny County judge on Tuesday denied bond for John L. Rush.

President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning of Common Pleas Court held a bond hearing for Rush, 21, Tuesday after the original bond in the case -- which includes charges of aggravated assault, disarming a law enforcement officer, cruelty to animals and harming a police animal -- was set on Friday at $1 million.

District Judge James Motznik defended the amount in an interview on Monday, saying that he ordered the $1 million bond -- at least in part -- because he considered Rocco, the dog, to be a police officer.

"To me, it's a member of the public safety department -- whether it's a firefighter, a paramedic or a police officer," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But during the hearing Tuesday, Judge Manning, who has a cat and no dog, also criticized Judge Motznik, saying, "Setting a million-dollar bond is nothing but magisterial grandstanding."

Further, Judge Manning said it was improper for Judge Motznik to speak to the newspaper about his reasons for setting the bond. He also announced that Judge Motznik would have nothing more to do with the case.

Judge Motznik could not be reached for comment following the hearing Tuesday. He said a day earlier that other reasons for setting Rush's bond at such a high figure included the defendant's additional detainers and previous criminal history.

Rush, who appeared at the hearing on a video monitor from the jail wearing traditional prison black-and-white striped garb, is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing on his current charges next Wednesday.

According to court records, he already was wanted for failing to register as a sex offender and for his alleged involvement in a violent home invasion in December in Lawrenceville.

Assistant district attorney Lisa Pellegrini, who supervises the homicide unit, said at the bond hearing that Rush's history shows him to be a danger to society.

She described to Judge Manning the home invasion, in which she said Rush beat his stepfather and the man's girlfriend with a hammer, stole a shotgun from them and pointed it at the man.

"No condition of bond could reasonably ... protect the community at this point," Ms. Pellegrini said.

A reasonable bail amount, Judge Manning said, is supposed to be granted in all but capital offenses, or unless no combination of circumstances can ensure public safety.

Judge Manning listed Rush's behavior last week -- fleeing from an Allegheny County deputy sheriff who was attempting to arrest him, and attacking Rocco, as well as three Pittsburgh police officers -- as reason enough to show he is a flight risk who should not be eligible for bail.

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

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published February 4, 2014 11:36 AM

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