Pitt denies role in deal involving one of its officers

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The University of Pittsburgh has denied that it is paying a $48,500 settlement to a man who was arrested by one of its police officers for taking cell phone video of an arrest, and declined Tuesday to describe its relationship with the insurance company that wrote the checks.

The settlement ended the 2-year-old case of Elijah Matheny, of the Hill District, who was charged with violating state wiretap laws.

The charge stemmed from Mr. Matheny recording Pitt Officer Nicholas Mollo handcuffing Mr. Matheny's friend after the two were caught searching through trash for thrown-away food. The charge was dismissed.

Mr. Mollo is no longer with Pitt, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Mr. Matheny.

The ACLU last Wednesday announced the settlement with Mr. Mollo, and an attorney for the group said Pitt would pay the settlement. At the time, a Pitt spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, though, Pitt Senior Associate Vice Chancellor John Harvith wrote to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette saying that the university "was not a party to the lawsuit, will not be paying the settlement money ... and has no further comment on this matter."

The settlement checks to Mr. Matheny and the ACLU were written by Freedom Insurance Co., from an office at 200 Lothrop St. -- a building owned by Pitt.

ACLU attorney Sara Rose said the checks were from Pitt's insurance company.

Pitt refused to provide the Post-Gazette with its contract with Freedom Insurance Co., to reveal its premium or deductible or to in any way characterize its relationship with that firm.

"Whatever you wish to know about that, you will have to consult someone other than Pitt," university spokesman Robert Hill said.

Neither Mr. Mollo nor his attorney, Robert G. Del Greco, could be reached for comment.

The Allegheny County district attorney's office was a named defendant in the case, but last year settled with the ACLU by agreeing to redistribute a memo explaining that it is not against the law to videotape a police officer in the course of doing his duty.

"Allowing officers to criminally charge people for peaceably recording the officer's interaction with the public puts too much unfettered discretion in the hands of those very people who might well have reason to shield public eyes from their conduct," said Glen Downey, from the law firm Healey & Hornack, P.C., who joined the ACLU in representing Mr. Matheny, in a statement.

Rich Lord: 412-263-1542.


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