Beaver County Sheriff George David exulted “I’m back!” when he left the courthouse Friday after a jury found him not guilty of criminal charges.
A poster with that quote, featuring his picture with his thumbs up and the signatures of many well-wishers, hung in his office Monday when he returned in triumph.
Other signs reading “not guilty” also greeted him in the halls and offices of his department.
It was a satisfying welcome for the law enforcement officer who had been hauled out of the same courthouse in handcuffs in March 2013 and was later barred from returning after being placed on house arrest pending trial.
The trial is over, the sheriff won, and his supporters have been out in force since the verdict came down.
Sheriff David, who said he received “well over” 300 congratulatory calls over the weekend, announced that he plans to run for office again next year.
“That’s a lock,” he said. “Definitely. I love being sheriff, and I love serving and protecting the people of Beaver County.”
After deliberating a little longer than an hour, a jury on Friday acquitted him on four counts related to threats a state grand jury said he leveled against John Paul Vranesevich, operator of the Beaver Countian website, on April 16, 2012.
On his site, Mr. Vranesevich said he was disappointed in the verdict but respects the jury’s decision.
“I have been covering the courts for years now and have never seen a juror who hasn’t treated this most serious and solemn process with anything but the attention it deserves,” he wrote.
Mr. Vranesevich also thanked the state troopers and deputy attorney general who prosecuted the sheriff.
His website was flooded with comments: some lambasting him as a liar, others attacking the sheriff as corrupt.
Despite the acquittal and the sheriff’s plans to run again, this contentious issue isn’t quite over.
Two more court proceedings related to the investigation will now play out, one involving a second alleged victim of the sheriff's anger and one involving one of his deputies whom state police say lied repeatedly.
Besides Mr. Vranesevich, the grand jury’s original presentment said Sheriff David threatened to cut off and eat the hands of Daniel Fleischman, a county jail guard who had campaigned for the sheriff and other Democratic candidates as a volunteer in 2011.
Mr. Fleischman said that when he went to Democratic campaign headquarters in November 2011 to pick up signs and other items, he tried to shake the sheriff’s hand.
He said Sheriff David swore at him and issued the threat, apparently believing that Mr. Fleischman had been talking negatively about him behind his back.
He said he didn’t report the incident because he feared he’d lose his job, considering that the sheriff is head of the county prison board.
At a preliminary hearing, he said the sheriff later called him to apologize, saying he’d received bad information about the comments Mr. Fleischman made. The case was separated from the Vranesevich trial. It will be heard as a summary offense of harassment before a magistrate. No date has been set.
In the other case, Lt. Thomas Ochs is awaiting a preliminary hearing on charges filed in June accusing him lying multiple times regarding the Vranesevich incident.
Lt. Ochs and a second deputy, Sgt. Michael Tibolet, witnessed the exchange between Mr. Vranesevich and the sheriff.
Both later testified under grants of immunity.
Sgt. Tibolet testified at trial that the sheriff pulled his gun but said he did not hear him threaten Mr. Vranesevich. He admitted that he initially lied that nothing happened, because he feared for his job. He later said he agreed to testify after his attorney, now a Common Pleas judge, told him that he could be charged if he did not cooperate with the state.
Lt. Ochs also lied and reversed himself, according to police. He said in an April 26 report that Sheriff David did not pull his gun, but in testifying before the grand jury said he did pull the weapon and pointed it briefly at Mr. Vranesevich. Then, at a preliminary hearing, he changed his story again and said the sheriff did not point the gun.
Lt. Ochs is charged with unsworn falsification in regard to the report he wrote, false swearing involving his testimony in court, obstructing administration of law in connection to the report and interviews with state police and hindering apprehension by lying to protect the sheriff.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510.