City officer investigated for off-duty incident

Encounter with trucker occurred in Oakland

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

Pittsburgh police Officer Garrett Brown, who was the subject of a federal misconduct lawsuit that cost the city $150,000 this month, is under investigation by the city for a different off-duty encounter with a truck driver who was delivering doughnuts in Oakland.

Officer Brown told police that a U-Haul van struck his personal vehicle, a black Dodge pickup, from behind while he was stopped at a red light. Although police charged driver Blaine Johnston, 58, of Carnegie, with leaving the scene of an accident, Mr. Johnston and his passenger claim they feared for their safety because Officer Brown appeared ready to start a fight. Mr. Johnston and his passenger have filed complaints with two different agencies.

Accounts of the Nov. 19 incident differ, although both sides agree the two vehicles were in an incident about 4 a.m. near Baum Boulevard and Melwood Avenue.

Officer Brown said he pulled ahead of the light and stopped "so as to exchange information," but Mr. Johnston instead drove to Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, more than a mile away, Officer William Kunz wrote in a criminal complaint supporting Mr. Johnston's arrest. Officer Brown told police he honked his horn and followed the van to the hospital, where it eventually stopped to make a delivery.

But a passenger in the van, Matthew Mazzie said it was Officer Brown who struck the delivery van moments after he had gotten out of his truck and punched a side mirror on the van, cracking it. Mr. Mazzie, 47, said he met Mr. Johnston for the first time that morning, and said Mr. Johnston was training him to deliver for Potomac Bakery. He was unaware the pickup driver was a police officer until they arrived at the hospital, where officers responded.

The incident remains under probe by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations and the Citizen Police Review Board.

"Our position is that [Mr. Johnston] acted appropriately in the interests of his own safety and reported the incident in an appropriate manner," said attorney Gerald O'Brien of Irwin. A hearing is set for April 21.

Mr. O'Brien also represented a Texas dump truck driver who filed a federal lawsuit in 2008, claiming that Officer Brown, while off duty, ordered him out of his truck and assaulted him. The city and the plaintiff earlier this month agreed to a settlement of $150,000.

Deputy police Chief Paul Donaldson said he would not comment on an ongoing OMI investigation but confirmed that Officer Brown remains a motorcycle officer working out of the city's West End station. Officer Brown deferred comment to his lawyer, FOP attorney Bryan Campbell. Mr. Campell said he was not aware of the city investigation and declined to comment.

Mr. Mazzie said the encounter began at Fifth and Morewood avenues, when Mr. Johnston made a left-hand turn in front of Officer Brown, who was traveling in the opposite direction. Both vehicles continued to Morewood and Baum, where, Mr. Mazzie said, the officer and Mr. Johnston exchanged words.

At one point, he said, Officer Brown started throwing coins at the van's window. When Mr. Johnston rolled down his window again, Officer Brown got out of his truck and punched the side mirror, then hit the van with his fist, Mr. Mazzie said.

The light turned green and Mr. Johnston drove toward Children's, their next stop. As they neared Melwood and Baum, Mr. Mazzie said, Officer Brown passed them and cut them off, striking the front of the van with the back of the truck.

"I said to Blaine, I am calling 911," he said. "The operator stayed on the line with us the whole time. I said, tell the police we're headed toward Children's. ... If somebody hits you in the middle of the night with their vehicle on purpose, are you going to stick around to see what he does next?"

Officer Kunz wrote in the complaint that he asked Mr. Johnston why he had not remained at the scene of the crash and "he stated that he had thought that Brown wanted to fight him. Johnston also denied that he had caused the incident."

Elizabeth Pittinger, the police review board's executive director, said its investigation is open but declined to comment further. OMI Director Kathy Kraus could not be reached for comment.

Sadie Gurman: or 412-263-1878.


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?