A retired Ambridge police sergeant accused of beating a prisoner pleaded guilty this morning to depriving him of his civil rights after the man was arrested for urinating in front of the officer's granddaughter.
Richard Heitzenrater, 61, will be sentenced on the misdemeanor count by U.S. District Judge Terrence F. McVerry on Nov. 12. He faces a maximum of 12 months in prison.
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Soo Song, Ambridge police were called on Feb. 20, 2009, for the report of a drunken man having urinated in front of two children.
David Baker was arrested for public drunkenness and other related counts. Mr. Heitzenrater, then a sergeant with the Ambridge police, arrived at the station house where Mr. Baker was being held and entered his locked detention cell at least three times, Ms. Song said.
The lights were turned off as he entered, which obscured the surveillance video, she continued.
"While in the cell, the defendant continued yelling obscenities at David Baker and repeatedly struck him in various parts of his body," Ms. Song said.
During one trip to the cell, in which other officers intervened to pull Mr. Heitzenrater out, he was seen kneeing Mr. Baker in the chest two or three times, she said.
The charge to which Mr. Heitzenrater pleaded is a lesser included offense and means that no bodily injury occurred to the victim during the attack, said defense attorney James Ross.
"That was our main concern here," he said.
A co-defendant in the case, Lt. Robert Kuzma, who is suspended without pay from the department, also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count today. He faces up to six months in prison for being an accessory after the fact.
According to the prosecution, Lt. Kuzma was primarily in charge of the department's video recording system. Mr. Heitzenrater contacted him on Feb. 20, and the lietuenant "agreed to come in the next morning to view and take care of the tape."
Using the system's instruction manual, Lt. Kuzma purged the system of the recordings of the assault.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.