Mayor Luke Ravenstahl calls for firing officer in Taser incident
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says police officer in video should be fired.
A typical Pittsburgh Police officer's belt. From left: Taser, pepper spray, collapsable baton, handcuffs, radio. Located on the other side: handcuffs .40 cal Glock automatic pistol, extra ammunition, rubber gloves and CPR mask. Missing is a flashlight. The items are arranged by the officer for their convenience.
In this photo from a video taken by bystander Sam Urick, Pittsburgh police detective Frank Rende is seen holding a Taser Saturday on the South Side.
Share with others:
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl on Monday called for the firing of Detective Frank Rende, whose encounter with a 27-year-old man Saturday at a South Side bar spurred allegations of police brutality after it was captured on video by a bystander.
The mayor's recommendation on Detective Rende, whose two-decade career has been marked by colorful controversy and a checkered disciplinary record, came after he saw the video and met with acting police Chief Regina McDonald and public safety director Michael Huss.
Marissa Doyle, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said a final decision will be made after a review by the Office of Municipal Investigations. She added that Detective Rende will be assigned to the warrants office until that review is complete.
If the detective is fired, his termination likely would be fought by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, which has had much success at getting officers reinstated.
Sgt. Mike LaPorte, the union's president, criticized the mayor's statement as "knee-jerk." Told that Mr. Ravenstahl intended to fire Detective Rende, Sgt. LaPorte said, "I can't imagine why."
On Monday morning, the mayor called the actions of Detective Rende, who was working a security detail during St. Patrick's Day festivities at Claddagh Irish Pub, "flat-out wrong." The video captured Detective Rende, armed with a Taser, pursuing a man who was leaving the bar.
"My first glance at the video, it is very disturbing," the mayor said. "It is something that in my mind shouldn't have happened, and somebody better give me a real good reason why he shouldn't be fired."
In a criminal complaint, Detective Rende wrote that he was attempting to remove another bar patron when Mark Keyser Jr. of Ross stepped between them and asked why. He smelled of alcohol and had glassy eyes, the detective said, and police decided to eject him as well.
The shaky video, taken by a bar patron, shows officers ordering Mr. Keyser off of the bar's patio area, drawing the attention of onlookers. Mr. Keyser appears to reason with the officers and resists their efforts to throw him out, telling them, "We're not in trouble. We're good. I don't know what's going on."
Mr. Keyser continues talking with the officer but backpedals several yards as an officer pushes him farther from the bar.
At that point, the video pans back to Detective Rende, who unholsters his Taser and asks the boisterous crowd to "Mind your own frickin' business!"
A bystander is heard saying, "I apologize."
"Now you want to apologize!?" Detective Rende says, waving the Taser at the man.
"I don't even know these people," the man replies meekly. "I'm sorry."
"Then you should shut your mouth when the police are doin' something!" he yells back, shaking a finger in the man's face.
He then walks briskly toward Mr. Keyser, with his right arm outstretched, and can be heard saying "You want [to be] Tased?!"
Mr. Keyser stands several feet away with his arm outstretched, but when they meet, he falls to the ground. In a criminal complaint, Detective Rende said he threatened to use his Taser on Mr. Keyser but never did. Instead, he said, the man tripped on low-slung fencing.
After he got Mr. Keyser in cuffs, Detective Rende screamed profanity at the man and called him a "clown."
In an email from police spokeswoman Diane Richard, Chief McDonald said it had been determined that Detective Rende did not deploy his Taser.
That fact mattered little to the mayor, who indicated he would recommend his dismissal even if the Taser wasn't used.
"Regardless of whether it went off or not, he clearly engaged the individual and went out of his way 20 or 30 yards down the street to go after this individual," he said. "If the Taser didn't go off, clearly he intended for it to go off."
Chief McDonald declined to say if Detective Rende was suspended or reassigned as a result of the incident.
The detective, who could not be reached for comment, has been accused at least a dozen times of conduct unbecoming of an officer.
According to a report from the Office of Municipal Investigations, in 1999, he returned to the home of a woman who had called 911 to report a domestic disturbance and engaged in a sex act with her after his shift. The woman was drunk and depressed, according to a police report.
He was suspended and allowed back to work but threatened with termination if he was accused of future misconduct.
A half-dozen years later, he was. Cmdr. Catherine McNeilly claimed he was calling off work to take side jobs, which are often more lucrative than on-duty police work. When no discipline followed her report, she inquired with then-Chief Nate Harper's office.
That's when city operations director Dennis Regan, who lived with the detective's sister, visited Cmdr. McNeilly and told her the report was being dropped.
Revelations of the chain of events led to the mayor dropping Mr. Regan as his nominee for public safety chief.
In 2011, the detective's actions came under fire when he was videotaped zapping an out-of-control man with a Taser and striking him repeatedly with a baton to subdue him at PNC Park. His actions were defended by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 1, and it was unclear if he was disciplined. But Mr. Ravenstahl said his actions in that case "were deemed appropriate."
He said he hoped his call for Detective Rende's termination would send a message to the bureau, which has been wracked with controversy for the last month. The mayor emphasized, however, that he did not believe the incident was part of a pattern of misbehavior.
"To have an officer literally chase down an individual and use force like he did is something that will just not be tolerated and not accepted," he said. "We need to make sure that our police officers know that they need to be beyond reproach."
First Published March 19, 2013 12:00 am