Citizen advisory board finds no violations in 2 police internal investigations

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Aug. 5—PITTSBURGH — Members of the Pennsylvania State Law Enforcement Citizen Advisory Commission approved reviews of internal investigations into separate incidents concerning allegations of excessive force and bias-based policing by state troopers.

The commission made no recommendations from either case, determining internal investigations into each were "prompt, fair, impartial, complete and performed in a manner consistent with applicable policies."

The commission started meeting in 2021 and was formed by executive order of Gov. Tom Wolf. It reviews internal investigations into police-involved shootings and other uses of force along with allegations of bias. Reviews are specific to law enforcement under the governor's jurisdiction including state police, state parole, Capitol Police and park rangers. That doesn't include municipal police.

Specific information including names is redacted from reports reviewed by commission members including general investigation, adjudication and interview reports.

The incident involving allegations of bias concerned two members of Troop J headquartered in Lancaster from October 2018. The allegation was determined to be unfounded through an internal investigation completed in February 2019.

It involved a vehicle stop with mistaken identity, with two troopers believing a motorist driving a vehicle with a missing rear bumper was wanted on an active arrest warrant. According to the commission, troopers ultimately determined the motorist was not subject to a warrant, explained the reason for the stop and apologized. The motorist filed a complaint with state police.

"We believe the officers' conduct in this situation was both professional and reasonable," commission member Keir Bradford-Grey said. "I think these are the type of interactions we'd like to see."

The second incident involved what the commission describes as "lower-level use of force," or "physical restraint," in an arrest made in February 2019. The trooper's commanding officer said the use of force was justified and the incident was not referred to the respective district attorney.

A trooper with Troop B headquartered in Washington, Pa., tackled a female suspect to the ground before placing her in handcuffs and taking her into custody. The woman was suspected of unlawful use of a friend's vehicle. According to the commission's recount of the internal affairs investigation, she tried to conceal her identity with a hooded shirt, provided a false name, and after subsequently providing her correct name, fled on foot before being apprehended. The trooper notified his supervisor of the incident.

Commission member Joshua Maines said there were concerns as to whether the trooper had enough evidence to merit reasonable suspicion rather than simply engaging in a mere encounter. He made a motion which passed to rescind a recommendation that troopers are annually trained in Fourth Amendment case law concerning warrantless interactions between citizens and law enforcement.

Such training is already conducted, Vice Chair Elizabeth Pittinger said.

"This matter was handled generally very well by the police officer," Maines said.

A police-involved fatal shooting on Interstate 83 in York County in November 2016 remains under review by the commission's Critical Incident Review Committee.