Councilman Koch guilty of disorderly conduct; attorney says he'll appeal
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A Pittsburgh councilman was found guilty yesterday of a summary charge of disorderly conduct stemming from a June altercation involving a city police officer, but his attorney immediately vowed to appeal.
Witnesses, including Councilman Jeffrey Koch on one side and two officers -- brothers Joseph and Brian Nicholas -- on the other, offered vastly different testimony in Pittsburgh Municipal Court about the June 25 incident.
Both officers accused Mr. Koch of bumping Joseph Nicholas with his chest and trying to interfere with an arrest. Mr. Koch claimed he was not aggressive, did not make contact with anyone and was himself manhandled.
"I never got close enough to touch him," Mr. Koch testified.
At the end of the summary trial, District Judge Eugene Zielmanski ordered Mr. Koch to perform 20 hours of community service. If the councilman does, the charge will be withdrawn. Judge Zielmanski also dismissed a summary charge of harassment.
Mr. Koch's attorney, James DePasquale, told reporters that he will appeal to Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
Mr. Koch, 44, of Arlington, was cited for harassment and disorderly conduct for a confrontation during a girls softball game at the Brookline Memorial Recreation Center.
Mr. Koch's daughters were playing for the South Side team against Brookline, which is coached by Joseph Nicholas, a 12-year veteran officer assigned to the Hill District station.
Officer Nicholas, who was off duty at the time, was not in uniform, and Mr. Koch said he thought Mr. Nicholas was simply a coach.
During the game, tensions rose between the sides. At one point, Officer Nicholas testified, he intended to arrest Heather Bevan, the daughter of the South Side coach, Gary Bevan, after she struck him.
However, Officer Nicholas said, he was surrounded by 10 to 15 angry South Side fans. By this time, Officer Nicholas' wife had called police, as had Mr. Koch's wife.
Brian Nicholas, who was in uniform on his way to an off-duty assignment, said he heard a call on the police radio for an off-duty officer being assaulted and drove to the ballfield, which is close to his home. He detained Heather Bevan, while Joseph Nicholas said he pushed Gary Bevan against a fence.
"I hear a voice, 'What are you doing?' and boom! I get hit with a chest," Officer Nicholas testified.
He said Mr. Koch was standing behind him with his arms apart and fists clenched. Officer Nicholas said he put out his hand and told Mr. Koch, "Back off, I'm a police officer."
"So what's that mean to me? What do I care?" Officer Nicholas said the councilman responded.
Brian Nicholas testified that Mr. Koch told Officer Nicholas to get his hands off Mr. Bevan. Then he intervened......
"I shoved Councilman Koch backwards, getting him out of my brother's face," Detective Nicholas said. The councilman tripped over a garbage can, Detective Nicholas testified. He said he then activated his Taser stun gun, held it on the crowd and told people to back up.
Eric Zilch, 22, another Brookline coach and a clerk at the U.S. attorney's office, said that after the furor had calmed down, he overheard Officer Nicholas speaking with Mr. Koch, asking why he disregarded his commands.
Mr. Zilch said the councilman tried to deny bumping the officer. But when Mr. Zilch told Mr. Koch he was lying, "He looked at me and said, 'Well, maybe I did.'"
Mr. Koch said he approached Officer Nicholas not knowing he was a policeman.
"I said, 'Who are you?' He says, 'I'm a cop.' I said, 'Frankly, I don't care.'"
Asked why he did not care, Mr. Koch said it was because Officer Nicholas was banging Mr. Bevan's head with his forearm.
Both Mr. Bevan, 47, and Mr. Koch's sister-in-law, Michele Gonzalez, 51, said Detective Nicholas threw the councilman to the ground.
"I saw the officer pick him up and throw him into the hillside," Ms. Gonzalez said. She also said Mr. Koch approached Officer Nicholas calmly.
Before the hearing started, a possible deal to drop the citations against Mr. Koch in exchange for dropping an investigation of the brothers by the city's Office of Municipal Investigations could not be brokered.
The OMI complaint was lodged by Lynn Coll, 35, of the South Side. She said she would not withdraw it.
"Those cops were out of control, totally," Ms. Coll said after the 90-minute hearing.
First Published August 11, 2006 12:00 am