A Beaver County blogger who keeps tabs on local government testified through tears Monday that Beaver County Sheriff George David drew his service revolver and threatened to kill him during a profane rant at his office last April.
"I was witness to the ravings of a madman," said John Paul Vranesevich, who runs the Beaver Countian website. "He was not in control of himself."
After a marathon preliminary hearing, retired District Judge Michael Gerheim, brought in from Armstrong County to hear the case, ordered the sheriff held on the majority of the 11 misdemeanor counts brought by state police in connection with that incident and an earlier one involving a campaign volunteer, Daniel Fleischman.
The judge dismissed several counts but otherwise sided with the attorney general's office in deciding that Sheriff David should stand trial.
State troopers arrested him in February following an 11-month investigation by a state grand jury in Pittsburgh.
Both alleged victims testified at length on Monday.
Mr. Fleischman, a county jail guard, said that when he went to shake the sheriff's hand at a campaign event, the sheriff called him a profane name and threatened to cut off his hands and eat them, apparently believing that Mr. Fleischman had been talking negatively about him behind his back. He said he didn't report the incident because he feared for his job and the sheriff is president of the county prison board.
Under cross-examination, he said the sheriff called him on Election Day to apologize and said he had received "bad information" that Mr. Fleischman had been talking badly about him.
During his testimony, Mr. Vranesevich said the sheriff launched into a tirade, pulling his pistol and waving it around during a meeting he had with the sheriff in the presence of two deputies, Thomas Ochs and Michael Tibolet.
"I can't explain his behavior," he said. "I don't know what is wrong with him."
Mr. Vranesevich was researching a story for his blog about a uniform contract for the sheriff's office after he said several deputies had tipped him that the sheriff was circumventing the low-bid process. He said Sheriff David, upset at the reporting on his office by J.D. Prose of the Beaver County Times, drew the gun in rage and warned that Mr. Vranesevich had better not report negatively on his office as he said Mr. Prose had done.
At one point, he said, the sheriff threatened to use the gun to blow Mr. Prose's brains out.
"If you start reporting [expletive] like this, I'm going to blow your [expletive] brains out, too," Mr. Vranesevich said the sheriff screamed at him.
Mr. Vranesevich said the majority of the two hours he was in Sheriff David's office were spent listening in shock as the sheriff alternately ranted against his various enemies, including Mr. Prose and Prothonotary Nancy Werme, whom he believed had fired his wife, Linda.
Mr. Vranesevich said the sheriff was initially irritated with him for wanting to pursue the uniform story and that his anger escalated to the point where he drew the gun. But in between bouts of fury, he said, the sheriff would become calm, as if nothing had happened.
"It was almost like this parabola of emotion," he said.
He said the sheriff also slammed a blackjack on his desk and shouted that he would beat Mr. Prose as he used to beat people in Aliquippa, where he was a cop for many years. Mr. Vranesevich said he felt threatened by the blackjack as well as the gun.
Deputies Ochs and Tibolet both testified that they witnessed the incident, although the details they recounted differed somewhat from the story Mr. Vranesevich told. Both admitted that they initially lied in internal reports saying nothing inappropriate happened because, they said, they didn't want to get their boss in trouble and feared retaliation.