Ex-police chief Harper testifies fired detective had good points, but didn't excuse use of force

Judge releases Harper, assistant chief as defendants in lawsuit

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Former Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper testified at a civil trial today that fired Detective Bradley Walker "had good attributes as an officer," though they didn't excuse his uses of excessive force.

According to documents presented by a city attorney, Mr. Walker was named Narcotics and Vice Officer of the Month for March 2005 for making 11 drug arrests and seven firearms violation arrests, and engaging in a search that yielded 162 stamp bags of heroin, some marijuana, six guns and a bulletproof vest. The detective later got a Meritorious Service Award for making 24 arrests for firearms violations that year.

On cross examination by plaintiff's attorney Josh Autry, Mr. Harper discussed a 2007 domestic violence allegation made by Mr. Walker's wife and son, after which the bureau dealt the detective a one-day suspension and ordered a steroid test.

"He was charged [in the incident] but that did not go to court, as I recall, because his wife and son did not wish to testify against him," said Mr. Harper.

The defense is expected to complete its case today, with closing arguments tomorrow morning.

The Squirrel Hill man choked by the off-duty Pittsburgh police detective in a road rage incident in 2010 gave a civil jury his account today.

Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab threw out part of the plaintiff's case against the city, former police Chief Nate Harper and an assistant chief.

Jarret Fate, 32, said on May 10, 2010, his car struck the left rear end of then-detective Bradley Walker's car as he left the Parkway toward Oakland.

He began to pull over, but traffic stopped him.

"I was sitting in my vehicle, and the next thing I knew, I was being choked," Mr. Fate told an eight-person jury. "The individual started yelling profanity at me and tightening his grip around my neck, and saying something to the effect of, 'You messed with the wrong person.'"

Mr. Fate testified that he drove away, but Mr. Walker drove in front of him and boxed him in.

"He reached for a weapon, pulls the weapon, and approaches me with the weapon drawn," Mr. Fate said. "I believe at this point that he may have asked me for my license, registration and insurance."

Mr. Fate said that Mr. Walker punched through his driver's side window, punched and shattered his windshield, and battered the body of his 1975 Porsche 914.

Glass cut Mr. Fate's face, he testified.

He said that he has since lived in fear of Mr. Walker, who was fired by the city and convicted of three misdemeanors stemming from the incident.

After Mr. Fate's attorney rested his case, assistant city solicitor Mike Kennedy moved for a judgment in favor of the defense.

He said Mr. Fate didn't prove that Mr. Walker was acting as a police officer, nor that the city was deliberately indifferent to the 32 citizen complaints lodged against the detective during his 17-year career.

The complaints "were not ignored," said Mr. Kennedy. "They were dealt with" through Office of Municipal Investigations probes that led to discipline, although not termination.

Mr. Kennedy also asked for the dismissal of one defendant, Assistant Chief George Trosky, saying there was no evidence that he was indifferent when he was the detective's commander for several years.

Judge Schwab said the jury can decide whether Mr. Walker was acting as a police officer, whether the city was deliberately indifferent to his past acts and whether city policy led to the attack on Mr. Fate.

But he decided to release Chief Trosky and Mr. Harper from the case.

Mr. Harper and Chief Trosky were "in a difficult place," Judge Schwab said.

"The mere fact that someone could have been fired for certain conduct" doesn't mean that they should have been, the judge continued. "They followed, and were confined by, the OMI process ... and the terms of the union contract.

"I don't believe that anyone, or a reasonable jury, could find that ... former Cmdr. Trosky and former chief of police Harper were deliberately indifferent, nor quite frankly that anything they did or did not do was the proximate cause of harm to the plaintiff," the judge continued.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord.


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