Beaver County sheriff takes stand, denies gun threat

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Testifying for the first time in his own defense, the Beaver County sheriff Thursday said he never pulled his gun and threatened to kill the operator of a local website during a heated meeting at his office two years ago.

"That never happened," Sheriff George David said under questioning by his lawyer, Lee Rothman. "Nothing happened. I just couldn't believe he said that."

The sheriff, 67, is accused of threatening to shoot John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, during a tirade on April 16, 2012.

Under cross-examination by the state, however, he admitted that he did threaten to kill a Beaver County Times reporter whose stories he didn't like and the county prothonotary with whom he was embroiled in a political feud over the 2011 election.

"I didn't mean it, you know that," he said.

Neither is a victim in the state's case, however, which focuses on Mr. Vranesevich's claims that the sheriff pulled his revolver, pointed it at him briefly and threatened to kill him while ranting about Beaver County Times reporter J.D. Prose and Nancy Werme, the prothonotary.

The sheriff said he did not draw his gun, as Mr. Vranesevich and Sgt. Michael Tibolet said he did, and denied he threatened Mr. Vranesevich with a blackjack, another of the website operator's claims. He said he did pull out the blackjack from his desk while searching for some papers but that he didn't slam it on his desktop or threaten to beat anyone with it, as Mr. Vranesevich claimed.

Sheriff David acknowledged that he was angry during the meeting, but said Mr. Vranesevich was "agitating" him with questions about articles written about his office by Mr. Prose that he considered one-sided and inquiries about his wife, Linda.

He said Mr. Vranesevich had told him that Ms. Werme had told him that she had fired his wife, who had worked in her office for many years, and that he asked him to leave her out of any conversations or stories on his website. When he kept asking about her, the sheriff said, he lost his temper.

In previous testimony, Sgt. Tibolet said he heard the sheriff say, "If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I would kill J.D. Prose and Nancy Werme."

Asked by Senior Deputy Attorney General Laurel Brandstetter if he said that or something similar, he admitted he did.

"I was angry. He was agitating me," he said. "I was upset that he mentioned my wife and J.D. Prose."

Bu he said Mr. Vranesevich was not the target of any threats. In addition to denying that pulled his service weapon on Mr. Vranesevich, he also denied telling Sgt. Tibolet what to say about the incident in the weeks that followed. The sergeant had testified that he told the sheriff that he had heard the threats against Mr. Prose and Ms. Werme and said Sheriff David told him never to repeat them.

Sgt. Tibolet initially lied about the incident, he said, because he feared for his job but later said he told the truth to a state grand jury after being told by his lawyer that he could be charged with a crime if he didn't cooperate. A second deputy, Lt. Thomas Ochs, has been charged with lying to protect the sheriff.

Earlier on Thursday, Sheriff David recounted his work history and various awards as a former Aliquippa police officer and longtime sheriff. He also said he had undergone years of therapy as a child to mitigate his stuttering, using the technique of loud talking to overcome the impediment. He also said he doesn't hear very well from years of shooting guns without ear protection.

"I talk loud," he said. "I'm a yeller."

His lawyer, Lee Rothman, introduced that testimony to show that his client speaks more loudly than normal. Among Mr. Vranesevich's claims is that the sheriff was screaming at him during the April 16 meeting, adding to his sense of being terrorized.

The trial will resume Friday with closing arguments and the jury is expected to begin deliberations.

But the sheriff has already won one battle. After the prosecution rested Wednesday, the judge acquitted him on a count of reckless endangerment because the prosecution neglected to elicit testimony from Sgt. Tibolet that his gun was loaded.

He still faces counts of simple assault, terroristic threats and witness intimidation.

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510.


First Published July 10, 2014 12:00 AM


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