It's been "years" since a subpoenaed city police officer failed to show up for a Citizen Police Review Board hearing on a citizen complaint, says CPRB Executive Director Elizabeth Pittinger.
But silence greeted the call for city police Sgt. William Vollberg on March 18. Vollberg didn't appear at a review-board hearing to investigate charges that he had violated police regulations "related to use of force," and that he'd engaged in "unbecoming conduct toward the public."
The charges were prompted by Noah Willumsen, of Bloomfield, who was among 25 demonstrators picketing a Marines recruiting center in Shadyside on April 3, 2007. Willumsen claims that when he attempted to photograph a juvenile protester's arrest by Vollberg, the sergeant slapped the cell-phone camera from Willumsen's hand and grabbed him. Willumsen was then arrested on misdemeanor charges that were later dismissed; he was convicted of summary disorderly conduct.
The CPRB's Pittinger told board members that "Sgt. Vollberg was subpoenaed" twice -- once through a colleague and once directly. On March 12, she said, CPRB investigators "personally delivered to him a subpoena to appear here tonight." Given that, Pittinger said, Vollberg's absence "appears to be deliberate."
When questioned by City Paper about his absence from the hearing, Vollberg said, "I was working. I answer to the taxpayers." He's not sure he'll respond to future subpoenas, either. "I can't tell you what my intentions are in the future, anymore than anybody else can," Vollberg said.
Officers rarely testify before the review board -- one officer spent a recent hearing listening to Guns 'N Roses on an mp3 player during his questioning -- but they do at least show up. The city's Code of Ordinances says, "The Police Bureau shall cooperate with and make a good faith effort to accommodate the [Citizen Police Review] Board's request for police personnel to testify at such hearings. ... Failure to comply with a validly issued subpoena should be considered by the Bureau as misconduct."
Lt. Jennifer Beidle, who deals with CPRB policy for the city police, did not return several calls for comment.
Vollberg has testified about the April 3 incident before, during a September city court hearing on the charges facing Willumsen. At that hearing, Willumsen and his lawyer maintained that photographing a police officer was perfectly legal, and that Vollberg grabbed Willumsen around the neck and squeezed.
Vollberg told the court that he hadn't known what Willumsen was thrusting toward him. As for the neck squeeze: "I don't believe I did, but even if I did, so what?" Vollberg said then.
The CPRB voted to issue another subpoena -- and to seek a Court of Common Pleas order compelling Vollberg to answer it.