Former Pittsburgh police officer sentenced to jail

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The attorney representing a former Pittsburgh police officer convicted of attempted insurance fraud, drug charges and obstruction of justice on Wednesday told the sentencing judge his client is not a typical criminal.

Michael Johns had been honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps and Army Reserves and he served for more than 16 years in the police department as a role model for young officers.

Perhaps, Marc Daffner argued, his client deserved a break because of that.

But Assistant District Attorney Jon Pittman twisted that argument around, listing those very same reasons why Johns deserved a more harsh penalty.

"It was his job to fight crime and be a good guy," Mr. Pittman said. "And he did the opposite."

In strong language, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Beth A. Lazzara made it clear she agreed with the prosecutor.

"You're a city of Pittsburgh police officer in whom all the residents place their trust," she said. "You are, 24 hours a day, a police officer. That is your function, your duty, your sworn obligation -- a job you have tarnished for all your fellow officers.

"You have sullied all of them."

She ordered Johns to be taken immediately into custody to serve 18 to 36 months incarceration, to be followed by seven years of probation.

Johns was found guilty following a jury trial in May of a number of heroin-related charges, along with insurance fraud and official oppression. He was found not guilty on charges related to promoting prostitution.

He claimed that he fell in love with a woman addicted to heroin, and that their relationship caused him to make bad decisions.

"I've got to pay for them the rest of my life," he said. "I lost a job that I love."

Judge Lazzara was not kind in her response.

"Come on. You're not 12 years old," she said. "If you were in middle school, junior high, maybe I'd buy that."

The judge acknowledged that "anybody else" would probably get probation on the counts for which Johns was being sentenced. But his role as a police officer made his offenses worse, she said, because he betrayed his community.

"You have broken the trust of the people," Judge Lazzara said. "All of us are sorely disappointed. All of us are saddened by what has happened to you."

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Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620. First Published August 14, 2013 4:30 AM


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