Ex-Rankin chief goes to prison a day early

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The long, strange journey of former Rankin Police Chief Darryl Briston ended yesterday when a judge ordered him to be taken into custody for a courtroom fracas in which police said he had tried to eat a piece of evidence.

Senior U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch revoked Briston's bond and remanded him into the custody of U.S. marshals.

The order meant Briston began his federal prison sentence a day early, since he was supposed to self-report today to the lockup in Terre Haute, Ind.

In January, Bloch sentenced Briston, 41, of Penn Hills, to 37 months in prison and five years of probation for his conviction on charges of theft and obstruction of justice.

Briston stole nearly $6,000 seized from the girlfriend of a drug suspect and then covered up the theft by forging documents and planting evidence.

Bloch had allowed Briston to remain free on bond until his sentence began, but then the ex-chief got himself into more trouble March 24 during a hearing at the North Versailles office of District Judge Robert Barner.

Briston was appearing on charges filed in 2003 in which police said he shook down a bar owner for $1,334 for repairs to his police cruiser that were never done.

At the hearing before Barner, state Trooper John Tamewitz wanted to seize the original copy of the receipt from Briston as evidence because police said it was phony. Assistant District Attorney John Dwyer agreed that the document should be seized, but as Tamewitz reached for it, he said Briston pulled it away from him.

Tamewitz and Barner then ordered Briston to turn it over, but he refused and crumpled it up.

"The defendant was eventually taken to the ground and was then observed placing the crumpled document into his mouth, again, in an attempt to destroy it," said an affidavit. "The evidence was eventually expelled from his mouth and recovered."

When Tamewitz told Briston he was under arrest, another fight broke out as the ex-chief resisted, the affidavit said. After North Versailles police arrived to help, Tamewitz managed to handcuff Briston, but not before being elbowed in the chest and neck.

As police put Briston into a North Versailles police car, Briston resisted again and started yelling obscenities, screaming that the trooper was "the reason I'm going to [expletive] prison, you and the [expletive] mayor!"

Briston has denied all the charges against him and claims he is the victim of a conspiracy by Rankin Mayor Demont Coleman.

Briston was fired last year after he was convicted of stealing $5,885 seized by Rankin police during the arrest of a federal drug suspect on April 15, 2002.

Prosecutors said the former chief stole the money from Tamera Brice after Rankin police took it from her safe. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had arrested her boyfriend, Richard Powell, on gun and drug charges.

Powell went to federal prison, but Brice was never charged.

In addition to the theft counts, federal prosecutors said Briston falsified receipts to make it look like most of the money had been spent fixing Brice's Chevrolet Blazer after a tour bus smashed into it in July 2003.

An auto repairman said the repairs cost $1,910, not the $5,787 Briston had claimed.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Cessar said Briston also gave the forged documents to the grand jury and directed two Rankin officers to place false evidence in the department's evidence locker.

In addition to the prison term, Bloch had ordered Briston to pay an outstanding balance of $4,255 to Brice as restitution.

Torsten Ove can be reached at tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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