Police arguing over security at Ravenstahl election party
December 14, 2009 5:00 AM
George Trosky takes the oath administered by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl during a promotional ceremony.
By Jonathan D. Silver Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A Pittsburgh police commander shouted and cursed at one of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's bodyguards on election night in a dispute over the mayor's security, according to a written account of the incident submitted by the bodyguard -- a Pittsburgh police officer -- to his superiors.
Detective Fred Crawford, a 21-year veteran, questioned in his report whether Cmdr. George T. Trosky broke departmental rules governing treatment of subordinate officers.
The flap between the two police officers, as well as other issues that arose in connection with the mayor's Nov. 3-4 victory party at a North Shore sports bar, has spurred ongoing parallel inquiries by the city police and the Office of Municipal Investigations.
It also underscores tensions between two high-ranking police officials -- Cmdr. Trosky and Cmdr. RaShall Brackney, who asked Chief Nate Harper to open an investigation into the election night incident.
Observers say the conflict partly amounted to a turf war, with Cmdr. Brackney questioning Cmdr. Trosky's presence in her zone.
Each supervisor also is said to be backing a different candidate to become the next officer promoted to the powerful rank of commander. There is a commander vacancy at Zone 5 in East Liberty.
In the report submitted by Detective Crawford and obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cmdr. Trosky is portrayed as angry and nasty when he learned that Detective Crawford did not know the mayor's whereabouts.
He is quoted as using loud, vulgar language eight times while telling Detective Crawford to find the mayor, in front of about 75 people.
Police regulations state that superior officers "are forbidden to injure or discredit those under their command or authority by tyrannical or capricious conduct or by abusive language or actions."
Detective Crawford told Cmdr. Trosky that the mayor's other two regular bodyguards -- Detective Dominick Sciulli and Sgt. Matthew Gauntner -- were with Mr. Ravenstahl, the report stated.
The report said Cmdr. Trosky told Detective Crawford "when I say do something, then just do it because I'll have the chief take all three of you off the mayor's detail, do you understand me?"
In a recent interview, Mr. Ravenstahl said he was aware of Detective Crawford's report but claimed that no change in the bodyguard's status was ever enacted.
"He has been uninterrupted," Mr. Ravenstahl said.
Internal police documents and other information show otherwise.
Detective Crawford was taken off the mayor's security detail Nov. 21, a day after a story about the twin investigations ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He was transferred to the bomb squad after having spent about three years working mayoral security, starting under Mr. Ravenstahl's predecessor, the late Bob O'Connor.
Detective Crawford was reinstated to bodyguard status Nov. 30.
It is unclear what prompted the temporary reassignment. Neither the mayor nor Chief Harper would discuss the temporary transfer in light of the ongoing investigations. Also uncertain is whether the longtime friendship between Cmdr. Trosky and the chief played any role.
Chief Harper interceded to have civil service rules changed in 2007 to allow Cmdr. Trosky to ascend to his current rank from that of detective. Before that, one had to be at least a sergeant to be considered for elevation to commander -- a position outranked only by the chief, the deputy chief and three assistant chiefs.
It is not entirely clear how Cmdr. Trosky, who runs the Hill District station, assumed control of the mayor's security during the election night festivities at Mullen's Bar & Grill on the North Side.
In an interview before he became aware of the internal investigations, Cmdr. Trosky said that he has overseen security at special events involving the mayor since becoming a commander.
"Ever since the mayor went in I've been in charge of every one of his special details without any problems from any other commanders," Cmdr. Trosky said.
Asked how he was given the duty of protecting the mayor, Cmdr. Trosky said, "I really don't know."
As for whether Chief Harper was involved in organizing security for the party, Cmdr. Trosky said, "No, he left it all to me."
Mr. Ravenstahl declined to answer questions about Cmdr. Trosky's role in his protection.
"You'd have to direct that question to the [police] chief and [Public Safety] Director [Michael] Huss," the mayor said.
Both declined comment.
Cmdr. Brackney filed her complaint with Chief Harper last month and asked him to investigate officers' conduct at the election party.
The issues Cmdr. Brackney raised included whether on-duty officers under Cmdr. Trosky were drinking; who was funding the officers' presence -- taxpayers or the mayor's campaign; and whether logs involving the officers' activities were falsified.
Detective Crawford's report states that at one point while arguing with Cmdr. Trosky, the commander asked an "unknown white male to get him another drink. The guy asked me what I was drinking. I said 'nothing.' Cmdr. Trosky says, 'Bring him a beer.' I said, 'No thank you. I'm working' and the unknown white male left."
When interviewed last month, Cmdr. Trosky denied that any on-duty officers were drinking.
"No, that's almost a silly question. I'm not going to allow these patrolmen to drink while they're working. The chief of police was there, the mayor was there. This isn't 60 years ago when crazy things were going on."
Cmdr. Trosky said he had five on-duty officers from his station -- most of them in plain clothes who were not responding to 911 calls -- supplement the mayor's regular contingent of three bodyguards. The commander said he was concerned that protesters might try to disrupt Mr. Ravenstahl's celebration.
He noted holdover concerns about protesters from the G-20 summit held in Pittsburgh in September and the arrest of several demonstrators during Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato's announcement of his candidacy for governor in October.
Contrary to Cmdr. Trosky's count, there were actually seven officers from Zone 2 assigned to the event -- plainclothes officers, a Downtown beat officer and a desk officer.
Payroll records show that the officers -- William Churilla Jr., Johnny J. Ficorilli, David A. Kazmierczak, Amy L. Larson, Donald A. Mathews, Kevin T. Merkel, and Anthony C. Moreno -- were originally listed as on duty and working a "detail" on Nov. 3, or special duty assigned by the zone commander.
But a revised record submitted Nov. 6 to the police payroll office reflects a change in the officers' status from on duty to either on vacation or using a deferred holiday. The only officers whose status changed were the ones appearing at the mayor's event.
Cmdr. Trosky declined to explain the change.
Cmdr. Brackney confronted Cmdr. Trosky and questioned whether it was legal for him to assign on-duty police officers from his zone to staff a political event in another zone.
To be on the safe side, Cmdr. Trosky asked the seven officers whether they would be willing to take a day off. They all did, payroll records show.
Bryan Campbell, a lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was unaware of any law restricting on-duty police officers from providing security for the mayor, regardless of the type of event.
He noted that the city's home rule charter puts the mayor in charge of the Police Bureau, much as President Barack Obama is commander-in-chief of the armed forces.