More than a year after her Shadyside traffic stop galvanized community members and drew cries of racist police, Pamela Lawton was found not guilty of disorderly conduct. Still up in the air, though, is the status of her complaint with the Citizen Police Review Board about the incident.
Lawton was stopped in Shadyside, in August 2006, for expired inspection stickers. The interaction escalated to the point where city police officer Eric Tatusko drew his gun, which Lawton said terrified her and the four children in the car. Her account of the confrontation -- which involved a white officer and black motorist -- set off a firestorm of criticism and allegations of police racism. On Sept. 21, after more than a year of delays, Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani found Lawton not guilty of disorderly conduct but held her liable for lapsed inspection and insurance. But he also said he found her account of Tatusko's threats to be "preposterous."
Shortly after the incident, Lawton filed complaints with the Office of Municipal Investigations, the police department's internal-affairs division, and the Citizen Police Review Board, the independent organization charged with looking into allegations of official misconduct. Tatusko, Lawton said, was threatening and deserved official censure. OMI found no wrongdoing on the part of Tatusko and dismissed Lawton's complaint in July. But at the request of Lawton's attorney, Paul Boas, the CPRB had suspended its own investigation until Lawton's criminal trial was over.
At the board's monthly meeting Sept. 25, it was unclear what steps the board should take now that the criminal complaint has been disposed. Lawton herself won't reveal if she'll cooperate: "I can't say," she told City Paper in a terse phone interview. She said she couldn't decide until speaking further with advisers and her lawyer, Paul Boas. She declined to answer further questions; Boas did not return a half-dozen calls seeking comment.
Before requesting that the board suspend the investigation, it was noted that Lawton had not replied to letters from the board seeking sworn testimony.
"I'd like to see a written recap of where we were [with the investigation]," said board member Malik Bankston at the board meeting. "I don't want to spend time and money if the complainant is not going to cooperate. It's difficult for me to craft a rationale for us to continue an investigation, to think that we are going to ferret out some truth without cooperation."
Countered board chair Marsha Hinton: "It's almost like we have an obligation to carry out an investigation. I think we owe both parties. We could take it upon ourselves to continue it."
Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger noted that the case has attracted a great deal of attention, and that if Tatusko did not act out of turn, "the officer should be exonerated." In an interview with City Paper, she said that the board hopes to confer with Lawton, which is "a very considerate directive on their part -- they do have the ability to do it with or without her." She won't speculate on what the board will decide to do. "They as a body are a very wise group of people. They want to have an idea of what's going on with the complainant."
The board will take the issue up again at their next meeting, Oct. 23 at the Kingsley Association at 6 p.m.