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Sloppy affidavits lead to dropped drug charges in Pittsburgh

The presence of false information in an arrest affidavit led the Allegheny County district attorney to drop charges against 14 people who were arrested by a since-retired Pittsburgh police officer. However, the officer will not sustain a criminal penalty for his actions after a jury on Dec. 7 found him not guilty of perjury and obstruction the administration of law.

The officer, 50, served 17 years on the Pittsburgh force. The charges against him stemmed from a July 2010 arrest of two men on suspicion of possessing and selling drugs to each other. The arrested men later accused the officer and his partner of taking more than $800 from them and of falsely claiming to see them exchange drugs. A surveillance video from the car wash where the arrest occurred shows they did not, contradicting the testimony in an arrest affidavit submitted by the veteran officer.

The officer and his partner later admitted that the affidavit was simply cut and pasted from the partner's police report and the officer never read it, though he signed his name to it. The account contained several factual errors. The officer insisted that he genuinely believed he had witnessed a drug deal, but prosecutors withdrew charges against the two men.

The problems with the arrest affidavit led the district attorney to review 31 cases where the officer made an arrest, and to drop the charges in 13 of those cases and overturn on conviction. In each of those cases, the evidence against the defendants was solely based on the officer's word.

The officer faced 11 criminal charges, but was found not guilty.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Retired officer cleared of charges in drug arrest," Bobby Kerlik, Dec. 8, 2011

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