DA doesn't probe violent arrest
By Steve Reilly | [email protected]
July 20, 2012
Watch Video : http://bcdownload.gannett.edgesuite.net/bie-mobile/37906157001_1708200500001_shortone.mp4
Frank and Joan Leone hold a photograph of their son, Vestal resident Robert Leone, who was arrested in March 2010. Leone has been in Bradford County Jail since 2010 on charges he assaulted police and resisted arrest. REBECCA CATLETT/ Staff Photo - REBECCA CATLETT/ Staff Photo
TOWANDA — Public outrage over a video showing the violent arrest of a Vestal resident by Pennsylvania State Police in 2010 has not persuaded Bradford County's prosecutor to investigate.
In dashboard surveillance footage released a month ago, Pennsylvania State Police troopers are recorded as they punch, Tase, jump on and verbally harass Robert Leone of Vestal at the conclusion of a 15-mile, low-speed chase through Bradford County.
While Leone is 2½ years into a 16-to-48-month jail sentence, none of the officers have faced criminal prosecution.
The video sparked coverage by national and international media in recent weeks and weekly protests on the steps of the Bradford County Courthouse. A Facebook group called "Freedom and Justice for Robert Leone" has more than 9,000 members, and the edited clip of the surveillance video has been viewed more than 300,000 times on YouTube.
However, Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett said no new evidence has emerged since the release of the video that would cause him to look into the incident further.
"We have not received any information that adds to, or subtracts from, the evidence that was presented at Robert Leone's trial," Barrett said. "Is there anything we didn't already know? No. Is there any new evidence? No. Is there any information that our previous evidence was not accurate? No."
Leone was convicted and sentenced on four charges in 2010, including "resisting arrest" for a broken finger suffered by an officer that punched Leone in the head, and "simple assault" for an unsuccessful attempt to punch another officer.
Barrett also said he doesn't have plans to investigate the use of force during the incident.
"The officers that testified, testified. The ones that offered statements have given statements," he said.
"I have that information. I have the statements of civilian witnesses. If someone else has direct knowledge, we're open to hear from them."
Barrett took exception to the 35-minute edited video placed on YouTube. The video does not confirm police reports that Leone struck a car prior to the low-speed chase, and does not mention that records indicate blood tests determined he had 19 times the therapeutic amount of his legally prescribed medicine in his system at the time of his arrest.
"The Internet video is an exercise of free speech, and whoever prepared it has an absolute right under the U.S. Constitution to express whatever they want to express and to omit whatever they want to omit," Barrett said.
"And the U.S. Constitution does not allow the state to impose any standards or ethics or penalize any omission, guess or misrepresentation."
The office of one federal official, however, has begun to look into the matter.
Bill Tighe, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Thomas Marino, R-Lycoming, said the congressman's office has heard from a number of constituents and recently began to look into the incident at the request of the Leone family.
"They filed a privacy act waiver just in the past couple days asking us for assistance and to look into the case," Tighe said. "With the family actually asking for our assistance at this point, we've kind of begun to work in earnest to see exactly what we're going to do. We haven't determined that yet. Asking for a federal investigation on a civil-rights case, as this would be, when you're talking about police brutality ... is a very serious thing."
Tighe said Marino -- a former federal prosecutor -- could communicate with the Department of Justice and encourage their Civil Rights division to look into the matter.
"He'll use his judgment -- and certainly his experience as a prosecutor will play into that -- to decide exactly what he wants to do, and if he wants to encourage the Justice Department to look into this," Tighe said.
Barrett said he does not plan to refer the matter to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, and a spokesman for the office said it does not have jurisdiction unless a county district attorney refers the case to them.
Special Agent J.J. Klaver, spokesman for the Philadelphia office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which covers Bradford County, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A federal civil-rights lawsuit Leone filed against the officers allegedly involved in the case moved forward on July 3 when U.S. District Court Judge A. Richard Caputo denied a motion to dismiss Leone's complaint.
Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman Maria Finn said the agency will not comment while there is ongoing civil litigation. Although it is unclear whether an internal state police investigation conducted near the time of the incident resulted in disciplinary actions, at least one officer testified he was cleared of wrongdoing.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided early this month not to hear Leone's appeal of his criminal convictions, Barrett said. That was the last appeal available to him under the state's court system.
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