Daily Archives: 1, March 11, 2008

Jury Awards 28 Mil., Troopers’ Attorney Promises Appeal

Pa. Father Awarded $28M Over Son’s Death


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A federal jury on Tuesday awarded $28 million to the father of an unarmed 12-year-old boy fatally shot by state troopers as he ran from a stolen vehicle they had cornered.

The jury found both troopers intentionally shot Michael Ellerbe during the Christmas Eve 2002 chase.

The verdict contradicted the troopers’ claim that only one shot Ellerbe – and then only because the officer believed the boy had shot his partner.

Attorneys for the boy’s father, Michael Hickenbottom, said the verdict and trial testimony should renew an investigation.

Troopers Samuel Nassan and Juan Curry “lied, covered up, fabricated in order to avoid responsibility, and those in power went along with it,” said Geoffrey Fieger, one of Hickenbottom’s attorneys. Joel Sansone, another attorney for Hickenbottom, accused U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan of turning “a deaf ear and a blind eye.”

In a statement, Buchanan said she would “review the transcript of the civil trial to determine whether reopening the federal criminal investigation is warranted.”

Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon said that she is confident the state police and FBI did a proper job and that another criminal investigation isn’t needed. Witnesses who surfaced after the earlier investigations – and who cast doubt on the police account during the trial – were not reliable, she said.


The troopers’ attorney, Andrew Fletcher, promised an appeal.

“This is obviously an enormously disappointing verdict, in our view, not at all supported by the evidence,” Fletcher said.

The troopers remain employed in good standing, said Cpl. Linette Quinn, state police spokeswoman.

The jury awarded $4 million for the boy’s pain and suffering, $12 million for each trooper’s use of excessive force, and $4,058 for burial expenses. Damages will eventually be paid by the state police, she said.

Quinn declined to comment on the jury’s finding that both troopers shot the boy. State police investigators concluded that Nassan shot him because he believed the boy had shot Curry. Nassan testified that he learned later that Curry had gotten tangled in a fence, causing his gun to fire.

Vernon and Buchanan, relying largely on the internal investigation and a coroner’s inquest that echoed those findings, had previously determined the troopers committed no crime.


“[F]lat out not true.” Decker comments on Miller’s testimony regarding referral

Gaming board unaware of DeNaples inquiry before issuing license, says former chair


HARRISBURG – The former chair of the state Gaming Control Board said Wednesday his agency’s investigators didn’t make a perjury referral to state police concerning Dunmore businessman Louis A. DeNaples and said the board didn’t know of an ongoing perjury investigation when it awarded DeNaples his slots license.

The response by Thomas A. “Tad” Decker, a Philadelphia lawyer, is sharply at odds with testimony by Col. Jeffrey Miller on Tuesday that gaming board investigators not only made the perjury referral, but they were aware of the resulting investigation and that one or more board members were aware, too.

It sharpens a key dispute in a controversy between the gaming board and Pennsylvania State Police over whether state investigative agencies cooperated fully in sharing information about DeNaples, owner of Mount Airy Casino Resort. He was charged in January with lying about ties to organized crime figures during the slots licensing process in 2006. DeNaples maintains his innocence.

“We didn’t send a perjury referral,” Decker said in a telephone interview. “This is just flat out not true.”


Sheriffs and deputies hold rally

News from the Pennsylvania General Assembly



DEPUTY POWERS: Sheriffs and deputies held a Capitol Rotunda rally to pressure the Legislature to expand their ability to investigate crimes and make arrests. A pair of state Supreme Court decisions issued in 2006 and 2007 have determined that sheriffs and deputies are not considered law enforcement officers and have limited their powers. Erie County Sheriff Bob Merski, president of the Pennsylvania Sheriffs’ Association, said the need to give them greater authority was particularly acute in rural areas, where municipal police departments are few and state troopers can have large territories to cover. Unions for municipal police and state troopers are opposed to the idea. “The self-imposed cataracts of some must be removed to see that we are all in this together,” said Jim Lee of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of Pennsylvania. The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. (House Bill 466)