Lawyer challenges Homestead prostitution arrest

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A local attorney is questioning whether his client's rights were violated when a Homestead police officer arrested her on prostitution charges last month.

Officer Ronald Depellegrin wrote in a criminal complaint that he contacted Diana Gross, 26, no address listed, after he saw an ad listed on the website Backpage and received permission from the Homestead police chief to conduct an undercover investigation.

As part of the investigation, Officer Depellegrin exchanged several text messages with the woman and agreed to meet her at an apartment on Sarah Street. He wrote that after the two undressed and began sexual activity, he advised her that she was under arrest.

Michael Waltman, the attorney, representing Ms. Gross, said he thinks the officer acted inappropriately.

"One of the key issues," Mr. Waltman said, "is that the police in this particular instance are engaging in the exact type of criminal activity that they're saying that they're trying to protect the community from."

The Allegheny County district attorney's office sent a letter to the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association president in 2010 after another controversial prostitution arrest.

In that letter, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. wrote that, "if an officer engages in a sexual act with a prostitute, this may constitute 'outrageous government conduct,' " that could prohibit his office from prosecuting a case. That determination, he wrote, depends upon a number factors including the seriousness of the crime, the degree and frequency of the sexual conduct and other factors.

The district attorney's office reviewed Ms. Gross' case and determined that Officer Depellegrin's actions "did not create a constitutional issue that would bar us from moving forward with the prosecution," Mike Manko, a spokesman for the office, said in a statement.

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Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.


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