Retired city police officer acquitted
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A retired Pittsburgh police officer accused of filing a false affidavit and arresting two men on drug charges on the North Side was found not guilty on all charges Wednesday.
An Allegheny County Common Pleas Court jury acquitted Kenneth Simon of two counts each of perjury, false swearing, obstructing the administration of law and unsworn falsification. The jury also found him not guilty on one count of theft in which he was accused of stealing more than $800 from one of the men he arrested.
Even so, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said Wednesday that his office has already withdrawn criminal cases against 13 defendants whose charges were based primarily on the word of Mr. Simon and his former partner, Officer Anthony Scarpine.
Another defendant already had been convicted in a jury trial. In that case, Mr. Zappala said, his office asked that the verdict be overturned.
"When we see things like this, it goes to the heart of the administration of justice," the prosecutor said. "No one is above the law. Guilt or innocence is determined by a judge or a jury, and we fight to protect that every day."
In all, Mr. Zappala said, 31 cases involving Mr. Simon and Officer Scarpine were reviewed. The 17 that were allowed to remain included separate physical evidence or testimony that corroborated what the officers claimed, he said.
Mr. Simon's trial began Monday before Judge Edward J. Borkowski.
Mr. Zappala's office accused him and Officer Scarpine of manufacturing information about a July 7, 2010, arrest at a car wash on the North Side.
In an affidavit of probable cause signed by Mr. Simon, he claimed to have witnessed one man, Timothy Joyce, selling drugs to another, David Carpenter, as he and Officer Scarpine drove past. When the men were taken into custody, police found heroin on Mr. Joyce and cocaine on Mr. Carpenter.
However, video surveillance from the car wash showed no such activity and clearly shows that neither Mr. Joyce nor Mr. Carpenter even spoke to each other that evening.
The district attorney's office dismissed the charges against both men and charged Mr. Simon and Officer Scarpine.
At a preliminary hearing in January, a district judge dismissed the charges against Officer Scarpine, saying that he didn't do anything wrong and instead pursued the charges against Mr. Joyce and Mr. Carpenter based on information provided to him by Mr. Simon.
During the trial, Mr. Simon told the jury that he believed he saw a drug deal occur but that the distance between him and the car wash must have skewed his perception.
"It would be very simple to confuse that from a distance of 160 feet," said defense attorney William Difenderfer, referring to his client seeing Mr. Carpenter walking away with a clenched fist and money in his hand.
Mr. Simon also admitted that the affidavit naming the two men was sloppy and that he never even read what Officer Scarpine wrote on it -- instead just signing his name to it.
Mr. Difenderfer told jurors there was never any intent to lie on the document.
"There's no excuse for it, the report writing," he said. "This had many more inconsistencies than any affidavit I've ever seen."
Still, he continued, there was internal police discipline that could have been meted out -- not criminal prosecution.
"It's really easy to defend a case where you know your client is being truthful about what happened," Mr. Difenderfer said. "I'm very proud to have defended him."
Mr. Zappala said he respects the jury's decision but believes criminal charges against the officers were appropriate.
"He's saying he made a mistake. We see it otherwise. It's an integrity issue," Mr. Zappala said. "These people were charged with felonies for actions they didn't commit."
First Published December 8, 2011 12:00 am