The first Citizens Police Review Board meeting of 2007 may see one of 2006's highest-profile cases dropped because of procedural deadlock.
That case involves the allegations of Pamela Lawton, a Hill District mother who says city police officer Eric Tatusko threatened her and the four children in her minivan with a gun during an August traffic stop in Shadyside. The following month, Lawton filed a complaint with the CPRB, which investigates claims of police misconduct. By the time of the most recent meeting on Dec. 5, however, Lawton had twice declined to be interviewed by board investigators, apparently on the advice of her lawyer.
Lawton's testimony has become even more critical as other accounts of the event have been discredited. "We have a few alleged witnesses that have turned out to be false witnesses," said CPRB Executive Director Beth Pittinger on Dec. 5. "There is no eyewitness to the stop itself. Some of the testimony has been recanted."
Although Lawton was willing to testify with her lawyer present, no complainant's request for counsel in such a situation has ever been granted, Pittinger said.
Lawton's attorney, Timothy P. O'Brien, did not return numerous calls for comment.
"It wasn't as though Ms. Lawton was being disrespectful to the board," Nation of Islam Minister Jasiri X told the Dec. 5 meeting. Jasiri X, of the Muhammad Mosque No. 22 in Wilkinsburg, has been among those organizing public support for Lawton and has attended numerous hearings concerning her case. "She was advised by her attorney because she had a pending criminal charge," he said, referring to the disorderly conduct charges Lawton faces from the incident.
The review board voted to extend the investigation of her complaint by an additional 30 days, in hopes that Lawton could be coaxed into giving an interview to CPRB investigators. Board members asked the staff to send Lawton another letter informing her that if she didn't cooperate, the investigation could be dropped.
The extension would also give the staff time to inspect the transcript of Lawton's Nov. 30 preliminary hearing on the disorderly conduct charge, which the review board had not yet received by Dec. 5.
At that hearing, Tatusko admitted to drawing his weapon, but said it was in response to a perceived threat from Lawton, whom he described as "belligerent."
Contacted by City Paper on Dec. 29, Pittinger refused to say whether Lawton had provided an interview since Dec. 5. Pittinger would say only that the investigation is still active.
The next CPRB board meeting is Jan. 23.