Pittsburgh police look into Taser incident on South Side
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The Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations is reviewing an incident in which an officer was filmed holding a Taser to a man on the South Side this weekend.
Detective Frank Rende wrote in a criminal complaint that he held the Taser to the neck of Mark Keyser Jr., 27, of Ross on Saturday but did not activate it. He wrote that Mr. Keyser, who was drunk, fell over into a white plastic fence because he lost his balance.
The encounter was captured on video and posted to YouTube and other websites and has prompted criticism from some who said they felt Mr. Keyser had clearly abided by the officer's orders to leave.
Detective Rende, who did not respond to requests for comment, wrote in a criminal complaint that he was working an off-duty detail at The Claddagh Irish Pub near the SouthSide Works movie theater when a manager asked him to remove a man from the bar.
Mr. Keyser stepped between the man and Detective Rende and asked why he had to leave.
Detective Rende wrote that Mr. Keyser had glassy eyes and smelled of alcohol, and he asked him to leave. The detective wrote that he warned Mr. Keyser to leave several times and warned Mr. Keyser that if he didn't do so, he'd pull out his Taser and use it. The detective wrote that Mr. Keyser said, "Go ahead."
Sam Urick, 32, of Moon, said he and some friends went to the South Side for St. Patrick's Day as they try to every year. They were leaving the pub when they saw the commotion and Dr. Urick began filming the video he'd later upload to YouTube.
"The officer ... started waiving his Taser around," Dr. Urick said.
He said he saw one of the men in the group walk away and grew especially concerned when "I saw three or four [officers] ganging up on a guy who looked pretty defenseless or harmless to me."
"Something just didn't seem right so I wanted to tape it," he said. "After the one officer said, 'Is this going to be used as evidence,' I thought if he is nervous about taping, maybe I should keep taping."
Dr. Urick, who said he has some friends on the Pittsburgh police force, said he's received mixed feedback about the video.
"Some friends were upset and said you're not catching the whole story," Dr. Urick said. "When you watch someone walk away and be pursued, I just think that's uncalled for."
Elizabeth Pittinger, director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said that when she watched the video, it seemed clear to her that Mr. Keyser had walked away and was dispersing when Detective Rende approached him with the Taser.
"I don't know why the officer pursued him," Ms. Pittinger said. "That's totally inappropriate."
Detective Rende has a checkered history in the bureau that contains at least a dozen accusations of conduct unbecoming an officer, including verbal abuse and excessive force.
One of the most serious was a 1999 incident in which he returned, after his shift ended, to the home of a female caller in the South Side and engaged in a sex act with her, according to an OMI report.
In 2011, he was one of the officers who subdued a rowdy fan at PNC Park with a Taser and strikes from a nightstick, after which a Fraternal Order of Police attorney said the use of force was proper.
He also responded to an incident at PNC Park last year in which a security supervisor lost his finger.
First Published March 18, 2013 12:00 am