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posted October 16, 2019

Couple accuse troopers of excessive force

By Nathan Duke
Couple accuse troopers of excessive force
Federal lawsuit filed over man's 2017 arrest
Nathan Duke Eagle Staff Writer
August 8, 2019 Local News

A Brady Township couple have filed a federal lawsuit against the state police troopers who arrested the husband at their home in 2017, alleging that the three officers used excessive force.

According to the couple's federal court complaint, which was filed Tuesday by Butler's Lindsay Law Firm, a National Guard helicopter reported to Trooper Michael Lewis that a marijuana plant was spotted in Danny and Sheri Pollock's backyard on July 29, 2015.

Upon being questioned, Danny Pollock told Lewis that two marijuana plants were being grown in the backyard of their Muddy Creek Drive home to provide pain relief for his wife, who had chronic back pain from a motorcycle accident, according to the suit.

Pollock told the trooper that his wife was allergic to narcotics and other pain killers prescribed to her, so he was growing the plants to help mitigate her pain.

Lewis seized the plants and told the Pollocks they would not likely hear from the police again, according to the complaint.

But the suit alleges that on July 26, 2017, criminal charges were filed stemming from the 2015 incident, and an arrest warrant was issued the following day.

However, Danny Pollock said he heard nothing about the case between the time of Lewis' original visit and Aug. 20, 2017, the suit says.

In response to a request, a state police spokesman said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

On Aug. 9, 2017, Danny Pollock had a heart attack and was taken to Butler Memorial Hospital, where treatment included the stenting of one of his arteries.

Around 5 p.m. on Aug. 21, 2017, three troopers — Gregory Bogan, Nathan Spangler and Matthew Kephart — showed up at the couple's home to serve an arrest warrant, according to the suit.

Sheri Pollock greeted the troopers on the front porch, and the complaint alleges that Bogan made his way from the rear of the property to the front porch, ran up the stairs and shouted at Danny Pollock that he was under arrest.

The couple alleges that the officers used excessive force, despite Pollock and his wife telling the officers he had recently been released from the hospital after a heart attack and that medication he was taking made him disoriented and confused.

According to the suit, the troopers refused to specify the cause for the warrant or show proof of its existence. Spangler allegedly grabbed Pollock's left arm and placed a handcuff on his wrist.

Danny Pollock, who was not wearing shoes, allegedly was denied a request to get his shoes from inside the door of his house.

At this time, Sheri Pollock reiterated the seriousness of her husband's medical condition, and Bogan is alleged to have called her an “(expletive) liar,” according to the complaint.
The couple alleges in the suit that Bogan then “bull-rushed” Danny Pollock, slamming him against his house.

Bogan and Spangler allegedly threw Danny Pollock to the ground; smashed his face into a porch swing, breaking two of his teeth and causing damage to his right eye, according to the suit.

Pollock alleges he was held face-down on the ground, where he was kicked, punched, kneed in the groin and elbowed as officers handcuffed him. Kephart allegedly threatened to Taser him, the suit says.

Sheri Pollock was troubled by blood coming from her husband's face and head since he was on blood thinners due to his recent surgery.

According to the complaint, Danny Pollock complained of chest pain at the time of the incident, and his wife alleges she was not allowed to check on him for hours after he was transported to BMH following the incident.

While waiting in the emergency room and in Sheri Pollock's presence, Bogan asked a nurse to consult Danny Pollock's records to determine whether the couple was being truthful about his recent operation, the suit says.

When the nurse confirmed Pollock's hospital stay, Bogan is alleged to have said to Spangler, “Oh (expletive), 11 days ago,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that Danny Pollock remained in the hospital from Aug. 21 to Aug. 23, 2017, to undergo evaluations, which included a heart catheterization to ensure the grafting and stents that were implanted 12 days earlier remained in place after the alleged assault.

Pollock's treating physician documented his observation of multiple bruises on Pollock's body, including one on the back of his head, another on his right lower extremity and one on his right wrist, the suit says.

Danny Pollock was released in a wheelchair from the hospital on Aug. 23, 2017, and transported by state police officers to the Butler County Prison, where he remained incarcerated for 15 days.

According to the suit, Pollock's injuries from the alleged use of excessive force included acute chest pain; numbness in his right arm; lower back pain, which forced him to walk with a cane; damage to his right eye, including blurred vision and obstructed peripheral vision; recurring neck and head aches; and damaged teeth, one cracked and two others chipped.

Max Roesch, an attorney for the Pollocks, called the troopers' alleged behavior “inexplicable,” and didn't know why police waited two years to arrest Danny Pollock.

“The clients feel very wronged by this,” Roesch said. “They've always held good feelings toward police and law enforcement. They want somebody held to account for this thing that nobody deserves, especially over two marijuana plants two years prior.”

Eagle staff writer Alex Weidenhof contributed to this report.
posted April 23, 2019

Man not guilty of hitting guard. Jurors verdict unanimous.

Eric Jankiewicz, Eagle Staff Writer
Butler Eagle
April 19, 2019

The lawyer of a Butler man accused of hitting a security guard with his car begged jurors in Butler County court Thursday to find his client not guilty “and let this man get on with his life.”

After deliberating for an hour on the felony assault case that began Wednesday, jurors returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty, eliciting whoops and praises of God from the defendant's family members attending the trial before Judge William Shaffer.

Peter D. Gall, 32, was charged in 2017 with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and other charges after he was accused of using his car to hit a security guard at Clearview Mall.

Gall and a friend were parked in the mall's lot on the night of June 20 when two security guards told them to leave. But instead of leaving, a confrontation ensued and continued to escalate with one guard aiming a gun at Gall.

Gall teared up and hugged his family as the 14-member jury, comprised of eight men and six women, announced the not guilty verdict.

“I haven't been able to sleep well since this whole thing started,” said Gall's father, David. “The whole thing seemed contrived. It seemed that they were shifting the blame to my son.”

“It's such a relief. The whole community looked at me like I was this criminal,” Gall said after the trial. “You're guilty until proven innocent, it seems like.”

As Gall and his family went to leave the courthouse, several jurors stood in a circle at the exit. Gall declined an invitation to speak with the group, but his lawyer, Al Lindsay, spoke to them.
“Thank you so much, everyone,” Lindsay said. “I really appreciate your concern.”

During closing statements earlier in the day, prosecutors called Gall a liar and said he used his car to assault mall security guard Michael Choate-Speckert during the June 2017 confrontation.
“His story is a lie. He's not the victim. He rammed his car 10 miles per hour into Mr. Choate,” Assistant District Attorney Robert Zanella told the jury. “The defense lies. (Gall) decides to drive into Mr. Choate because he's mad.”
Zanella pointed out that Choate-Speckert's training as a Marine included assessing threats and proper ways to respond to it. He explained that Choate-Speckert pulled a gun on Gall because he believed his life was in danger.

Lindsay, on the other hand, questioned why prosecutors focused on the victim's military training. “What's the deal with the fact that he's a military police officer with the Marines?” Lindsay asked. “We're in an era where we lionize people in the military. Him being an MP has nothing to do with this case.”

Lindsay further characterized Choate-Speckert as being overzealous in his duties as a mall guard.
“I don't know what got into him,” Lindsay said. “This case was about anger. Mr. Choate-Speckert lost it. His conduct was such that he was terminated the next day.”

Gall said he was glad he took the case to trial, adding that the jurors cleared his name.
“I'm happy this is all over,” Gall said.

posted November 20, 2017

It wasn't pot, it was hibiscus, couple says

Nov. 15, 2017 Butler Eagle, News Extra
BUFFALO TWP — A senior citizen couple is suing Nationwide Insurance and three Buffalo Township police officers who they say wrongfully ransacked their home looking for marijuana plants that were really hibiscus.

Attorney Al Lindsay held a news conference on Thursday to detail the Oct. 7 ordeal of township residents Edward and Audrey Cramer, who are in their 60s.

In October, according to the lawsuit, a neighbor's tree fell on the Cramers' home and caused damage. The couple contacted their homeowner's insurance carrier, Nationwide, to come and assess the damage.

The lawsuit claims that upon the assessment, insurance agent Jonathan Yeamans asked Edward what was inside of a nearby temporary shed. After Edward left to run errands, the lawsuit says Yeamans “reentered the property and took photographs of the flowering hibiscus plants in the Cramers' backyard.

Yeamans then sent the photos of what he though were marijuana plants to the Freeport police, who forwarded them to the Buffalo Township police.

The lawsuit claims that Audrey explained to police that the plants they were seeking were flowering hibiscus, which vaguely resemble marijuana, but was told by police that her husband had lied to her about raising hibiscus and was actually raising marijuana.

The lawsuit said Audrey, 66, sat in the back of a hot police car for 4.5 hours with her hands tightly cuffed behind her back.

When her husband arrived 30 minutes after police, he had guns pointed at him and was also cuffed and placed into the back of a cruiser, the lawsuit says.

Buffalo police officers then ransacked the house looking for marijuana, causing various damage to the home's interior and causing emotional stress to the Cramers, the lawsuit says.

In addition, the lawsuit claims that the Cramers received notification later in October from Nationwide Insurance saying that marijuana was found on the property, “and if they failed to remove the nonexistent marijuana plants, Nationwide would cancel their insurance policy.”

The complaint filed in county court by the Cramers alleges insurance bad faith, defamation, invasion of privacy, negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Nationwide and Yeamans,
The allegations against Buffalo Township Police Sgt. Scott Hess include invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault, battery, false imprisonment, false arrest and excessive force.

Buffalo Township faces civil rights violations by the police department
posted November 04, 2016

Soldier for the Constitution, Al Lindsay, fights for clients

Tom Victoria  Eagle Staff Writer 
Soldier for the Constitution, Attorney Al Lindsay, 70, fights for clients

Butler Business Matters
Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Butler attorney Al Lindsay is juggling cases that are receiving local, regional and national attention.

In quick succession this spring, Lindsay went from representing plaintiffs in the defamation case against former Butler County Commissioner Jim Eckstein to seeking an overturning of the Jerry Sandusky conviction.

Most recently, Lindsay defended a Plum school teacher accused of intimidating a witness.

When the Eckstein case was declared a mistrial April 29, Lindsay had to resume working on the Sandusky case May 2.

“If you’re a trial attorney, you live on borrowed time,” he said.

Lindsay said attorneys should be prepared to adjust their personal schedules and maintain focus. “I’m never in a situation when I’m not thinking about a case,” he said, citing the example of pondering legal issues while doing mundane tasks such as mowing grass.

The Eckstein case ended in a mistrial. A retrial is set for September.

Hearings on the Sandusky case are set for August.

Plum teacher Drew Zoldak recently was found not guilty in Allegheny County court of intimidating a student who accused another teacher of having sex with her.

Lindsay said it’s a great honor to be asked to represent someone needing legal help. “It’s a sacred trust,” he said. “It’s a very serious responsibility.”

Lindsay said Zoldak never made any comment about the student, but the teacher should not have been charged even if he did. “It still would not amount to a crime,” Lindsay said.

He said Zoldak was unjustly bunched together with the teachers accused of more serious crimes. Lindsay credited the jurors for being astute. “We had a wonderful jury,” he said.

Lindsay said a challenge in high profile cases is the media often puts forth a story inconsistent with the facts. “We find the narrative is wrong,” he said.

Lindsay recalled a case when he defended Brentwood police Officer John Vojtas, who was one of three officers charged in the 1995 death of Johnny Gammage in Pittsburgh. According to Lindsay, Vojtas was implicated in the death despite being out of the fray upon being injured. “There was no question my client was going to be acquitted,” Lindsay said.

Vojtas was found not guilty. The case against two other officers ended in a mistrial twice.

Lindsay said the cause of death was misreported initially as chest compression when it was actually cardiac arrest.He explained the circumstances — five white men involved in a fight with a black man who died — made the case highly charged. “To this day, people are complaining,” Lindsay said.

The Sandusky case, in which the former Penn State assistant football coach was convicted of child molestation, has received long-term national attention.
“People have a salacious interest in this stuff,” Lindsay said.

The attorney said he is convinced of Sandusky’s innocence, but conceded it would not be easy overturning a conviction.“It’s an uphill battle,” Lindsay said. He blamed the conviction on bad representation.

Lindsay said innocent people often have problems when they are accused of a crime. “They think the system works,” he said.Lindsay said Sandusky can have a fair trial the second time around.

He stressed having proper legal representation makes the difference. “It’s not a justice delivery system,” Lindsay said. “It’s a dispute resolution system.”

In the Eckstein case, former county Commissioner Dale Pinkerton, county human resources director Lori Altman and her husband, state Trooper Scott Altman, accuse Eckstein of spreading a corruption rumor about them.
Lindsay is representing the Altmans.

He summed up the point of the defamation case: “The importance of honesty in political discourse.”

Lindsay said a small case is no less important than a more prominent one because it is vital to the client.
According to Lindsay, there is a main reason he takes on a specific case. “I believe in the cause,” he said. “I truly believe in the defense.”

Lindsay respects his clients. “I like all my clients,” he said. “I’m the luckiest attorney in America. I happen to get all the good ones.”

There are times he bows out of a case. He stopped short of saying he drops clients he catches lying. “There are many cases declined because of an issue with a client,” Lindsay said. He doesn’t try to persuade a client on a course of action such as accepting a plea agreement or civil settlement. “The clients run the show,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay, 70, of Buffalo Township, who has a 44-year career, became the first full-time assistant district attorney in Butler County in 1972. He was appointed an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania in 1975. In 1980, Lindsay entered private practice.

He prefers criminal cases, which have simpler verdicts, to civil ones. “Civil cases are generally more complicated,” Lindsay said.

Lindsay’s associate, Andrew Salemme, has observed the veteran attorney in action since joining the Lindsay Law Firm in February. “It’s been a marvelous learning experience,” Salemme said. “He has an excellent reputation. There’s a reason for that.” Salemme said not every lawyer has Lindsay’s skills or panache.
The younger attorney said he hoped he could be as effective in the courtroom someday.

On Lindsay’s part, the one thing he does not want to be is boring. He said some attorneys seem to not care if anyone is listening to them during a trial.

“You try to do the best for your clients,” Lindsay said. He said the role of a defense attorney is to help those suffering an injustice.

“We’re soldiers for the Constitution,” Lindsay said.
posted November 01, 2016

Suspended Teacher Found Not guilty

Associated Press
Suspended teacher found not guilty
He was accused of intimidation

Butler Eagle, June 14, 2016
By Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — A suspended Plum High School teacher has been found not guilty of intimidating a female student who accused another teacher of having sex with her, allegedly by pointing out the girl in class last year.

The Allegheny County jury deliberated for less than an hour before acquitting Drew Zoldak, 41, of a single witness intimidation count.

Zoldak, a forensics teacher at Plum was arrested last year as police and, eventually, a grand jury investigated alleged sexual misconduct involving three other male teachers and three female students.

Zoldak’s accuser — who also told police she had a sexual relationship with Joseph Ruggieri, 39, the teachers’ union vice president — testified she felt intimidated when Zoldak pointed her out in class in April 2015.

She testified Zoldak was explaining to his class that he missed their previous session because he had to meet with detectives — who he called “men in suits” — and gestured toward her by moving his head and saying, “Because of her.”

Several students called by the defense testified they felt Zoldak’s comments were innocuous.

Defense attorney Alexander Lindsay Jr. of Butler argued to the jury on Monday that, even if the incident occurred the way prosecutors described it, they hadn’t proved Zoldak was trying to intimidate the girl into not cooperating with the Ruggieri investigation.

Ruggieri has since pleaded guilty and is serving two to five years in prison. Another teacher, Jason Cooper, 39, also has pleaded guilty to having sex with a different female student and is serving 18 months to three years in prison. Former substitute teacher and athletic coach Michael Cinefra is awaiting trial on charges he had sex with yet another student. He has pleaded not guilty.

Butler Eagle. June 14, 2016