It’s criminal: Police repeatedly fail to collar an assault suspect

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The case of a Swissvale man accused of assault reads like a comedy of errors, but it sure isn’t funny.

Police filed theft and simple assault charges and an arrest warrant was issued against Nire Brown, 18, on March 14. His then-girlfriend Tyra Perkins had told police he slapped and punched her, tried to choke her and steal her cell phone. That same day, Ms. Perkins obtained a protection-from-abuse order against him. Although that process typically involves a check by authorities for any outstanding arrest warrants, the charges against Mr. Brown had not yet appeared in the computer system.

That timing favored Mr. Brown, who then slipped through the cracks of the criminal justice system three times in three months — through no action of his own.

A week after the original incident, Swissvale police hand-delivered an order to Mr. Brown telling him to appear for a hearing on the PFA, but he wasn’t picked up then on the pending arrest papers. On March 24, when he appeared at the PFA hearing, he wasn’t arrested either. 

When Swissvale police finally did arrest Mr. Brown on Monday, they let him go several hours later. Why? Swissvale’s chief said his department didn’t have time to deliver Mr. Brown to the Allegheny County Jail.

It’s clear that Swissvale should have held Mr. Brown until someone could take him to the jail for processing. Instead, he wasn’t picked up until the Allegheny County sheriff’s fugitive squad was assigned to the case after questions were raised by the Post-Gazette. Where was Mr. Brown? He was at home.

There’s got to be a better way, and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala has a smart suggestion: Allow police departments to video conference with arraignment court so suspects then could either be released pending trial or taken to jail.

Until that’s possible throughout the county, police departments have an obligation to follow through on arrest warrants. Ms. Perkins should have been able to expect that the charges against Mr. Brown would be processed, and eluding the police should be a lot more difficult than simply staying home.

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