Beaver County District Attorney Releases Video of Struggle Between Man and Cops

Beaver County District Attorney David J. Lozier has released a video of a violent encounter last year between three Aliquippa police officers and an intoxicated Pittsburgh man that is now the subject of a federal civil-rights lawsuit against the city.

While Gregory Johnson filed a complaint that police used excessive force on him and beat him up in front of his wife and 4-year-old daughter. He suffered a broken jaw and other injuries but Mr. Lozier disagrees with that claim.

“It was perfectly appropriate use of force based on what officers are taught,” Mr. Lozier said Friday. “He made a move toward the officer, he made a move toward his wife, and the officer put his body between the guy and his wife. He was sort of shoving his wife. The individual then moved toward the officer, put hands on the officer.”

Mr. Johnson’s attorney, Steven Barth, decried what he viewed as unnecessary violence on the part of the police officers.

“Greg Johnson does not deny that he was drunk that night and that his conduct was horrible. However, it does not justify the violence he received from the officers,” Mr. Barth said this week in a statement. “Nowhere in the crimes code or statutes does acting drunk and disorderly justify a fractured jaw or physical violence. The Constitution protects all citizens of this country.”

Mr. Johnson, his wife and daughter sued Aliquppa last week, its police chief, Sgt. Neal Nicholson and Patrolmen James Cillo and Jonathan Cochran in federal court, claiming civil-rights violations and malicious prosecution.

The encounter occurred about 4:45 a.m. on June 17th at the Aliquippa police station. Officers arrested Mr. Johnson, 41, of Beechview. A report by Sgt. Nicholson indicated that Mr. Johnson had kicked in the door of his ex-girlfriend’s house.

Police took Mr. Johnson into custody for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. He contacted his wife, Chavonne Newman, who came to pick him up along with their daughter.

“Mrs. Newman stated that he does not get physical with her so she is not worried,” the report said. “Mrs. Newman also stated that Johnson does not become physical when intoxicated he merely ‘runs his mouth.’ “

A dispute arose when Mr. Johnson refused to sign two citations and paperwork for paramedics saying he refused treatment for minor injuries from the scrape with his ex-girlfriend. It is claimed Mrs. Newman tried to get her husband to sign the documents.

In the surveillance video recorded after an agitated Mr. Johnson is released from the police station holding cell, he can be seen having a heated conversation with Mrs. Newman and Patrolman Cillo, unfortunately there is no sound on the video.

At one point Mrs. Newman appeared to be pushing Mr. Johnson backward. Mr. Johnson then removed her hand and moved her out of the way as Patrolman Cillo advanced. The two men began talking.

Patrolman Cillo, who stands a head taller than Mr. Johnson, put his right hand on Mr. Johnson’s left shoulder. He then shifted his hand up to Mr. Johnson’s collarbone area.

In response, Mr. Johnson pushed Patrolman Cillo’s forearm away. Patrolman Cillo then grabbed Mr. Johnson by the throat with his left arm while using his other hand to hold Mr. Johnson’s arm.

Patrolman Cillo appeared to pull Mr. Johnson toward him, grab him by the back of the head and take him to the ground.

A report by Patrolman Cillo described the incident this way:

“Johnson came out of his cell clearly upset at Newman and began yelling at her for siding with the police and chest bumped her. At that time I stepped in between Johnson and his wife in an attempt to place him back into his cell and to protect Newman,” the report said.

“Johnson then chest bumped me and took a fighting stance with a closed right fist. At that time I grabbed the combative Johnson around his upper torso area,” the report continued. “Johnson and I then began to wrestle, we ended up on the ground with Johnson on top of me. I flipped Johnson off of me, I delivered two knee strikes and one elbow strike to Johnson.”

Patrolman Cillo wrote that Mrs. Newman told her husband, “You did this to yourself.”

The suit, filed by Mr. Johnson and Mrs. Newman, claimed that Mrs. Newman did not feel threatened by her husband.

The suit also claimed that Patrolman Cillo suddenly grabbed Mr. Johnson “by the neck and slammed him against the wall then threw him to the concrete floor causing [his] face to be slammed violently against the ground whereby he suffered severe and serious injuries and damages which may be permanent in nature.”

Prosecutors withdrew the aggravated assault charge against Mr. Johnson, who pleaded guilty to summary citations for public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

Beaver County District Attorney David J. Lozier who released the video in response to media requests, said he withdrew the felony charge because of “the facts of the case.”


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