A Beaver County sheriff’s deputy told a jury Tuesday that his boss, Sheriff George David, pulled out his gun during a profane rant in April 2012 in the sheriff’s office and threatened to kill a Beaver County Times reporter he believed wrote an unfair story about him and the county prothonotary with whom he was feuding after the 2011 election.
“If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I’d kill [reporter] J.D. Prose, and I’d kill [prothonotary] Nancy Werme,” the sheriff said, according to testimony from Michael Tibolet, a sergeant who witnessed the incident and testified under a grant of immunity before a state grand jury.
However, Sgt. Tibolet said he never heard his boss threaten to kill John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, nor did he see the sheriff point his gun directly at Mr. Vranesevich, as the reporter says he did.
Sheriff David is on trial on charges that he threatened to shoot Mr. Vranesevich during an April 16, 2012, meeting at the sheriff’s office when the blogger came to talk to him about uniform contracts for his deputies.
Mr. Vranesevich testified Monday that the sheriff, agitated about a story Mr. Prose wrote about the sheriff’s department budget that he considered unfair, launched into a two-hour tirade that Sgt. Tibolet and another deputy, Lt. Thomas Ochs, witnessed.
Mr. Vranesevich was researching a story for his website about a uniform contract for the sheriff's office after he said deputies had tipped him that the sheriff was circumventing the low-bid process.
He said Sheriff David grew increasingly angry during the meeting, lecturing Mr. Vranesevich in a loud voice and eventually drawing his gun with a warning that Mr. Vranesevich had better not report negatively on his office as he said Mr. Prose had done. He also said the sheriff pulled a blackjack from his desk, said he once used it to beat people as an Aliquippa cop and threatened to beat Mr. Vranesevich and Mr. Prose with it.
Questioned by the prosecution, Sgt. Tibolet supported much of Mr. Vranesevich’s testimony, saying his boss was so furious at one point that the sheriff stood up and, shaking with rage, pulled his weapon and held it up slightly. Sgt. Tibolet leaned forward in his chair, fearing what might happen, he said.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I was stunned.”
Sitting nearby, Lt. Ochs covered his face with his hand, he said.
Under the defense’s cross-examination, Sgt. Tibolet also said Sheriff David, while clearly agitated early in the meeting, didn’t become irate until Mr. Vranesevich told him, “This is the first step in bringing down an elected official.”
“That just came out of nowhere,” Sgt. Tibolet said.
The quote supports the theory by Lee Rothman, the sheriff’s lawyer, that Mr. Vranesevich had a vendetta against the sheriff and came to the meeting with an “agenda” to get him.
Mr. Rothman also hammered on the fact that Sgt. Tibolet lied repeatedly during the investigation.
Sgt. Tibolet told the jury that he initially lied to his supervisor about the meeting that night, saying “nothing happened” and lied again to state troopers when they came to his house after midnight on April 17, 2012. He also admitted that he lied to the sheriff’s office solicitor and then wrote a bogus report on April 18, again saying nothing happened.
He said he feared he would be fired if he told the truth.
Then, that May, he sought out the sheriff and talked to him about the threats he said the sheriff had made against Ms. Werme and Mr. Prose.
“You don’t need to fudging repeat that again,” he said the sheriff yelled, using the sheriff’s common substitute for an expletive.
It wasn’t until Sgt. Tibolet was subpoenaed to appear before a state grand jury that he told the truth, after his lawyer told him he would be charged unless he cooperated, he said.
Lt. Ochs has been charged with repeatedly lying to protect the sheriff.
The trial will resume Wednesday and could end by Thursday.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3068.