Kopy’s Bar attorney wants to know why detectives kept their jobs after brawl with Pagans

Detectives involved in brawl with Pagans will be just reassigned

The owner of the South Side bar where undercover Pittsburgh police detectives brawled with members of the Pagans motorcycle club wants the city to explain its decision to keep the detectives on the police force and is concerned the officers may present a danger to the public if they’re returned to the streets, his attorney said. 

“The approach that has been used here, there is a complete and total lack of transparency, which begs the question why — is there something being hidden?” said George Farneth, attorney for Stephen Kopy, who owns Kopy’s Bar on 12th Street. Mr. Kopy declined to comment and referred questions to Mr. Farneth.

The city on Tuesday said the four detectives involved in a late-night, alcohol-laden melee at Kopy’s Bar on Oct. 12 would keep their jobs and be reassigned to new positions on the force. Police put a new commander in charge of the bureau’s narcotics and vice division and implemented “new guidelines” for alcohol use during undercover operations in the wake of the incident at Kopy’s, which brought heavy scrutiny to undercover operations and resulted in an excessive force lawsuit against the city.

A police spokesman on Tuesday refused to say where the officers would be reassigned to or the nature of their work. Police also have refused to release the new alcohol use guidelines and have offered no explanation for the decision to keep the detectives on the force. 

“We would really like to see the chief of police explain the process they used to investigate the officers’ actions, the standards to which they were held in that investigation and what the future holds for the people of Pittsburgh in terms of what they can expect out of their officers,” Mr. Farneth said Wednesday.

He added that the public has a right to know whether the detectives will be reassigned to desk jobs or whether they’ll be out patrolling the streets and interacting with citizens.

“[Those detectives] had no regard whatsoever for the safety of those Pagans — who really hadn’t done anything wrong — and engaged with a level of force that suggests they are a danger to the community,” he said. “Keeping them on the force in any capacity puts us in the position of wondering whether another incident like this could happen in another form.”

Mr. Farneth also called on Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to explain why he did not press criminal charges against the detectives.

Mr. Zappala’s spokesman, Mike Manko, said Wednesday that prosecutors couldn’t make a criminal case based on the evidence.

“Our extensive review of the video evidence determined that due to the actions of everyone involved, we would not be able to sustain our burden of proof on any charges filed against anyone,” Mr. Manko said. The U.S. attorney’s office also declined to prosecute federally.

But Mr. Farneth and some other local legal experts said the detectives’ conduct clearly rose to a criminal level, particularly one detective who is shown on video punching a Pagans motorcycle club member in the face 19 times while another officer pinned the man against the bar.

“If that’s not excessive force, I don’t know what is,” Mr. Farneth said.

The attorney also raised concern Wednesday about police conduct during the investigation into the incident at Kopy’s. In an affidavit filed with the Citizen Police Review Board in October, Mr. Kopy wrote that a police detective tasked with collecting the bar’s surveillance video said he couldn’t do it because the security system was broken — even after attorneys for the Pagans and investigators with the Citizen Police Review Board had made copies of the videos without trouble. 

“Detective Murray called me to inform me that the data on the hard drive might be lost and that the security system would not turn back on,” Mr. Kopy wrote in the Oct. 22 statement. “Upon stating that the data might be lost, I informed him that the PPCRB and the Bikers’ defense attorneys had copies to which [the detective] sounded surprised to hear such news. He then apologized for the accident and promised that the City of Pittsburgh would replace or reimburse the cost of the damages.”

Police spokesman Chris Togneri on Tuesday would not answer questions about that allegation or say whether police investigated how the video was apparently lost. Mr. Farneth said the possibility that the detective purposely destroyed the video in an attempt to cover up the bar incident will cast a pall over future police investigations until it is dealt with directly.

“Systemically, it suggests there could be problems in the way investigations are conducted into conduct of police officers and alleged criminal activity by police officers,” he said. “If the problem isn’t solved going forward, we can’t rely on the integrity of that investigation system.”

Pittsburgh police did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday and declined to comment Tuesday.