Archive for January, 2009

PA State police to offer law enforcement class

January 30, 2009
Updated 01/29/2009 06:01:34 PM EST
The state police announced they will conduct a Citizens Police Academy for residents of Fayette and Greene counties beginning in March at the George Plava Elementary School in German Township.
Trooper Brian D. Burden said the program is designed to expose residents of Fayette and Greene counties to law enforcement, the types of training officers receive and general law enforcement concepts and responsibilities.


“This training will be a forum for understanding and communicating between citizens and the criminal judicial system,” Burden stated in a press release. “Individuals selected to participate gain a greater understanding of law enforcement practices and a deeper sense of criminal agencies duties.”

According to Burden, class participants will have the opportunity to discuss possible areas for improvement in partnership between police and the public.

The class will be held Mondays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. beginning March 2 and concluding with graduation ceremonies on May 11.

State and local police officers, including Uniontown police Chief Jason A. Cox, FBI investigators and Herald-Standard crime reporter Josh Krysak will be among those leading classes during the 11-week course.

Burden said class size is limited to 25 community participants accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

Participants must be at least 18 years old and have no criminal history.

Applications can be obtained at the state police barracks at 1070 Eberly Way, Lemont Furnace, or the state police barracks in Waynesburg. Applications must be submitted by Feb. 16.

For more information, call Burden 724-415-1000 or Trooper Bart Lemansky at 724-627-6151. 

Updated 01/29/2009 06:01:34 PM EST

Brownsville man headed to court

January 30, 2009
Updated 01/29/2009 07:01:43 PM EST
A Brownsville man facing multiple charges after he allegedly shot a Clarksville man in the leg in Georges Township last year will have his day in court following a preliminary hearing Thursday.
State police said George Bodnovich, 42, was charged in early November before Magisterial District Judge Randy S. Abraham with aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person and simple assault after he allegedly shot Jonathan Harmon, 26.


According to Trooper David L. Bell, Bodnovich shot Harmon in the leg after Harmon allegedly shot Bodnovich’s dog while hunting for coyotes.

Abraham held all charges against Bodnovich for Fayette County Court following the hearing Thursday.

Bell said the incident occurred when Bodnovich was walking in a wooded area near Hi-To Sportsman Club with three friends and his dogs.

Harmon was in the same wooded area riding an all-terrain-vehicle and allegedly hunting for coyotes, Bell said.

While hunting, Harmon allegedly mistook one of Bodnovich’s dogs for a coyote and shot and killed the animal, Bell said.

However, Bell noted that the dog, named Seneca, was wearing an orange neoprene vest when Harmon shot it.

Bell said Bodnovich confronted Harmon about the incident and allegedly shot Harmon in the right leg during the argument.

Harmon was treated at Uniontown Hospital, Bell said. 

Updated 01/29/2009 07:01:43 PM EST

Cop reaches into foamy sewage tank to rescue dog

January 30, 2009

Yahoo! News

Thu Jan 29, 9:01 pm ET

KALAMA, Wash. – A Kalama police officer reached into a tank of sewage to rescue a dog that had jumped inside. The officer, Jeff Skeie, was able to grab the sinking dog by the ear Tuesday and pull it out by the scruff of its neck. He had waste only on the sleeves of his uniform until the dog gave itself a vigorous shake, spraying him head-to-toe with sewage.

The dog was a stray that took off while its pen was being cleaned. It jumped in the sewage treatment plant‘s digester and was unable to swim in the foamy liquid.

After the rescue, The Longview Daily News reported, the officer took a long shower and the chocolate Labrador had a bath. It was adopted later in the day by a woman who named it Hershey.


Information from: The Daily News,


Supreme court to decide case on school strip search

January 28, 2009

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to decide whether a public school violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a strip search of her for ibuprofen.

The school argued in its appeal that the Constitution allowed a strip search of a student suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen in violation of its policy that prohibited medications on campus without permission.

School officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered the search in 2003 of Savana Redding, who was in the eighth grade. Following an assistant principal’s orders, a school nurse had Redding remove her clothes, including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if she was hiding ibuprofen, a common painkiller.

School officials did not find ibuprofen, which is found in over-the-counter medications like Advil and Motrin. Higher doses require a prescription.

The strip search had been prompted by an unverified tip from another girl who had Redding‘s school planner and some ibuprofen pills. She claimed Redding had given her the pills.

Redding denied it and an initial search of her backpack and pockets did not turn up any ibuprofen. The assistant principal then ordered the strip search to be done in front of the nurse and his administrative assistant, both women.

Redding said she was embarrassed, scared and about to cry. She said she felt humiliated and violated by the strip search.

A federal appeals court ruled the school and school officials violated the U.S. Constitution‘s Fourth Amendment right that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

It said alleged ibuprofen possession was “an infraction that poses an imminent danger to no one.” Instead of forcing Redding to disrobe, school officials could have kept her in the principal’s office until a parent arrived or could have sent her home.

The appeals court also ruled the assistant principal may be held liable for damages for the search.

In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the school argued that the ruling has alarmed administrators and teachers around the country.

The decision “places student safety and school order at risk by impairing the ability of school officials to effectively carry out their custodial responsibility,” it said.

Redding’s lawyers opposed the appeal.

“A school official simply cannot order a strip search any time a frightened student points an accusatory finger at another student,” they said.

If the school wins, strip searches could become as prevalent as “the common practice of students tattling on each other,” her lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The case could he heard by the justices in April, with a decision likely by the end of June, a court spokeswoman said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)


Court Reinstates Washington Murder Conviction

January 28, 2009

The Associated Press, Wednesday January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has reinstated the murder conviction of the driver in a gang-related, drive-by shooting that horrified Seattle in 1994.

By a 6-3 vote, the court on Wednesday reversed a federal appeals court that had thrown out the second-degree murder conviction of Cesar Sarausad II.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the conviction because of unclear jury instructions. But the high court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, said there was “no evidence of ultimate juror confusion.”

“Rather, the jury simply reached a unanimous decision that the state had proved Sarausad’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Thomas wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice David Souter said an uncertain instruction from the trial judge merged with a “confounding prosecutorial argument” that included a “clearly erroneous statement of law.”

“In these circumstances, jury confusion is all but inevitable and jury error the reasonable likelihood,” wrote Souter, who was joined in his opinion by Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Sarausad was convicted for his role as the driver in the shooting that killed a teenage girl outside a Seattle high school.

Sarausad was a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Washington at the time of the shooting. He drove the car from which Brian Ronquillo shot and killed 16-year-old Melissa Fernandes. She had nothing to do with the gang rivalry that led to the shooting.

Ronquillo was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 52 years in prison. Sarausad got a 27-year sentence.

Sarausad admitted being the driver but denied knowing that Ronquillo had a gun, much less that he was planning to kill anyone.

The jury instructions at issue concerned whether, to be convicted of second-degree murder, Sarausad had to know that Ronquillo intended to use a gun and that someone could die as a result.

The case is Waddington v. Sarausad, 07-772.


Court sides with police officers in search case

January 28, 2009

The Associated Press, Wednesday January 21, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that police officers in Utah who searched a suspect’s home without a warrant cannot be sued for violating his constitutional rights.

In ruling unanimously for five officers attached to the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force, the court also abandoned a rigid, two-step test that it adopted in 2001 to guide judges in assessing alleged violations of constitutional rights.

Trial and appellate judges “should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion” in evaluating such claims, Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court.

Under the 2001 ruling, courts first had to determine whether an action amounts to a violation of a constitutional right and then decide whether the public official, often a police officer, should be immune from the civil lawsuit.

Officials can’t be held liable in situations where it is not clearly established that their actions violated someone’s constitutional rights.

The case grew out of a search of the home of Afton Callahan of Millard County, Utah, in 2002.

An informant contacted police to tell them he had arranged to purchase drugs from Callahan at Callahan’s trailer home.

Wearing a microphone provided by police, the informant entered the trailer and signaled police that a deal had been made. They entered the trailer without a warrant and arrested Callahan on charges of possession of methamphetamines.

Utah courts ruled that the evidence that was seized from Callahan’s home could not be used against him. Other courts have allowed prosecutions to go forward under similar circumstances.

Callahan later sued the officers for violating his constitutional rights. A federal judge ruled the officers could not be sued because there is disagreement in the courts over whether the search was illegal.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the lawsuit could proceed because the officers should have known that people have a right in their home to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The high court said Wednesday that the officers are entitled to immunity from Callahan’s suit.

The case is Pearson v. Callahan, 07-751.


US Supreme Court Holds That Non-Suspect Passengers Can Be Frisked

January 28, 2009

Associated Press, January 26, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that police officers have leeway to frisk a passenger in a car stopped for a traffic violation even if nothing indicates the passenger has committed a crime or is about to do so.

The court on Monday unanimously overruled an Arizona appeals court that threw out evidence found during such an encounter.

The case involved a 2002 pat-down search of an Eloy, Ariz., man by an Oro Valley police officer, who found a gun and marijuana.

The justices accepted Arizona’s argument that traffic stops are inherently dangerous for police and that pat-downs are permissible when an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the passenger may be armed and dangerous.

The pat-down is allowed if the police “harbor reasonable suspicion that a person subjected to the frisk is armed, and therefore dangerous to the safety of the police and public,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

The case is Arizona v. Johnson, 07-1122.


US Supreme Court to Decide How Long Suspect’s Request for Lawyer is Valid

January 28, 2009

By Jesse J. Holland, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to clarify how long a suspected criminal’s request for a lawyer during police interrogation should be valid, taking on a case where a child molester asked for a lawyer almost three years before admitting to the abuse.

The high court agreed to consider the state of Maryland’s appeal of a decision throwing out child molester Michael Shatzer’s confession.

Shatzer was imprisoned at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown for child sexual abuse in 2003 when police started investigating allegations that he had sexually abused another child. Shatzer requested an attorney and the case was soon dropped.

Three years later, the boy was old enough to offer details. According to court documents, when a different police officer questioned Shatzer again about the case, he was advised of his rights and signed a form waiving them before confessing.

After Shatzer was charged, he filed a motion to suppress his statements, arguing that he had asked for an attorney in the case before. A lower court did not accept his argument, but the Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with his position and threw out the confession.

“After a substantial period of time, however, the presumption that a defendant wishes to proceed only in the presence of counsel is not reasonable,” said Douglas F. Gansler, Maryland‘s attorney general.

State and federal courts have differed on how long a request for a lawyer is valid, Gansler said.

Shatzer’s lawyers say the request is permanent.

“A prior request for counsel prohibits further interrogation,” Shatzer’s lawyers said in court papers. “Even if it did not, this court should recognize, as other courts have, that a police officer who is resuming an investigation has a duty to determine, before questioning a suspect, if that person has previously requested an attorney.”

The Supreme Court likely will not hear the case until the fall.

The case is Maryland v. Shatzer, 08-680.


US Army Police Officer Electrocuted In Iraq; Army Questions Account

January 28, 2009

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WASHINGTON – The Army on Wednesday challenged an injured military police officer‘s account that he received a severe shock while he was showering in Iraq.

Instead, an Army investigation found that Pfc. Justin Shults, 21, was shocked Oct. 18 on metal steps attached to a shower trailer, the Army said in a statement. It said the shock was caused by an “improperly bonded electrical conduit pipe” on the ground.

Shults‘ account generated attention because at least two soldiers have been electrocuted while showering in Iraq, and the military has faced criticism for the electrical work done where troops live.

In stories published earlier this week, Shults said he was knocked unconscious when he adjusted a wall heating and air conditioner unit while showering. Shults, who is in outpatient care at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, described severe burns to his limbs and groin.

Shults said he stands by his recollection of what happened. But he also acknowledges, given the amount of time that has passed and the fact that he was unconscious, that he could’ve been confused about where he was when he was shocked. He said it’s been difficult to get answers about the incident.

“I would like to know what happened, and if anyone was responsible, who it was,” Shults said Thursday.

The Army statement said Shults’ injuries were “tragic.” It says he was shocked when he tripped on the stairs and came in contact with the pipe, which was used to protect the electrical cable inside.

The statement says the pipe and wire were part of existing Iraqi infrastructure, and that the shower trailer was not maintained by military contractor KBR Inc. Shults had said he blamed KBR for what happened, and that he’d talked to some KBR workers as they installed the shower trailer a few months before he was burned.

On Monday, an Army spokesman did not respond to questions about the incident.

After the incident was first reported Monday by the San Antonio Express-News, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., called Shults, who is from Hamburg, Pa., and mentioned the incident on Tuesday during a press conference on electrocutions in Iraq.


5 Sheriff’s Officers Split 2nd $1 Million in Lottery Winnings Since 1-1-09

January 27, 2009

Five Gaston County Sheriff’s officers who have been pooling their lottery money for less than a year reportedly hit it big in Saturday’s Powerball drawing by matching all five white balls.

They’ll split a $1 million payday – taking home checks worth $136,000 each after taxes, but all five still showed up for work at the county jail Monday morning.

“We’re professionals,” said Fay Costner, one of the five big winners. “We showed up for the sake of the community and the safety of our fellow officers.”

The other four winners, according to Costner, are: Joseph Heffner, Thomas Summey, Charles Martin and Barry Ervin.

They all have shifts to pull again today, but have an off day Wednesday, and plan to travel to Raleigh then to pick up their winnings, Costner said.

This marks the second $1 million win for Gaston County lottery players in less than a month. On Dec. 31, Matthew Alton, 20, of Gastonia matched the five white balls on a ticket he bought at the One Stop Grocery at 510 E. Franklin Blvd., Gastonia.

The odds of matching all five balls: 1 in 5,138,133. Powerball made those odds a little more difficult after adding Florida to the multi-state lottery game Jan. 1.

Costner bought the lottery tickets Friday from TAS Drug at 500 W. Church St., Cherryville. Head cashier Violet Grantt said she has known Costner for years, and was glad to see the group of law enforcement officers win.

“They’re very nice people,” Grantt said. “I’m really happy for them. It couldn’t have happened to nicer people.”

The five contribute $20 every five weeks on their lottery playing, Costner said.

“The return was great,” she said of winning. “It feels real good.”

None of the five ever considered skipping work Monday to collect their winnings, she said, although they did call Sheriff Alan Cloninger to tell them of their good fortune.

“He was overjoyed,” Costner said.

They created a buzz around the department Monday, but they carried on their duties as usual, said Capt. D.A. Yelton. All five hold key positions in the jail, so it was not surprising to see them at work, he said.

“They’re all professional and they know the importance of their jobs,” Yelton said. “It never dawned on me that they wouldn’t be here.”

You can reach Kevin Ellis at 704-869-1823.

Odds of matching all five white balls: 1 in 5,138,133

Odds of matching all five white balls and Powerball: 195,249,054

Randy Erwin/Photo illustration
For the second time in less than 30 years Gaston County lottery players have won $1 million in Powerball