Man to file lawsuit against Pittsburgh police officers; Brutal beating caught on tape

ATTORNEY TODD HOLLIS (Photo by J.L. Martello)

In between the highly publicized police assaults of Jordan Miles and Leon Ford V, there was Paul Parrish, a then 35-year-old Black Brentwood male whose arrest on July 17, 2012, by Pittsburgh police officers was recorded, showing him being pistol whipped, pulled through a car window, thrown on the ground and further assaulted. This all took place after he had surrendered, holding both his hands out the car window, for the officers to clearly see.
Now, armed with the just-released tape, Parrish and his attorney, Todd Hollis, will file a civil rights lawsuit this week against a number of Pittsburgh Police officers, accusing them of violating his rights and brutally beating him.
“My client was assaulted as the result of a high speed chase that he led the city of Pittsburgh police in. However, at the time he surrendered himself to the officers, he was entitled to be treated with civility. Instead he was pistol whipped, thrown from his vehicle, where Officer (Robert) Ross and a number of other officers punched, kicked and beat him,” said Hollis. “I think this is a very clear, brutal portrayal of a lack of discretion on behalf of a few members of the city of Pittsburgh police… this complaint is not a condemnation of all city of Pittsburgh police officers, but unfortunately, it does show the attitude of a certain few.”
Parrish was pulled over by Pittsburgh Police Officer Robert Ross for traveling through a red light “at a high rate of speed” in the North Side. After stopping, Parrish, in what Hollis calls a bad decision, pulled away leading a police chase down North Charles Street and ending on Route 65, near the McKees Rocks Bridge. Near the end of the chase, Ross hit the back bumper of Parrish’s car, causing the vehicle to spin around; it then stopped and Parrish placed both of his hands out of the window, surrendering, as seen in the video captured by another officer’s vehicle dash camera and supplied to the New Pittsburgh Courier last week. Next, an officer, identified by Hollis as Ross, then approached the vehicle, struck Parrish in the head with his pistol, and pulled him out through the driver’s window, face down, onto the ground. The car then drifted into another officer’s vehicle, and several officers then approached. While Parrish was on the ground, partially out of range of the camera, the officers were seen hitting and kicking him.
Parrish was later taken to Allegheny General Hospital with lacerations to his face. His vehicle was searched and officers reportedly found two shell casings inside the vehicle and marijuana in the trunk. He was charged with one count of fleeing or attempting to elude an officer, one count of possession of a controlled substance, one count of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, one count of resisting arrest, one count of driving without lights to avoid apprehension, one count of reckless driving and one count of failure to stop for a red light. All the charges were later dropped, except the fleeing or attempting to elude an officer charge. Parrish is currently serving time in jail.
But while the videotape shows one account of Parrish’s arrest, Officer Ross testified in court to a different chain of events. In a transcript provided to the New Pittsburgh Courier of a Nov. 29, 2012 hearing before Judge Anthony Ceoffee, Ross testified that when he approached the vehicle, Parrish was “halfway out of the car” with “his leg up on the console like he’s ready to jump out on me. So I tell him to get back in the vehicle. It looks like he is trying to grab my gun, so I hit him with my pistol a couple of times. He falls out of the car. The wagon comes and there is a struggle on the ground where he is resisting arrest with the officers trying to handcuff him. He is told several times to quit resisting, but he won’t. They had to forcibly handcuff him.”
Hollis disputes several details in Ross’ account. He says that as seen on the video, Parrish never tried to jump out of the car, nor did he fall out. He further explained that Parrish never put the car in park, his foot was on the brake, and that when he was pulled out of the vehicle through the window, his foot released the brake causing the vehicle to drift into the police cruiser.
He also said that Parrish never attempted to reach for Ross’ gun.
Hollis also pointed out another discrepancy in the involved officers’ account of what happened that evening. In a copy of the medical record provided to the Courier from the doctor Allegheny General Hospital who saw Parrish that night, she writes, “the patient states he was assaulted by a police officer but the police said that he led them on a car chase. The car spun around so that it was facing the opposite direction. The patient jumped out of the car to run and they tackled him and brought him in for evaluation.”
According the video, Parrish never “jumped out of the car to run.” The officer who told the doctor what happened is not identified.
“The fact that this measure was recorded on video speaks volumes. (That) coupled with the fact that an officer would then go into court and fabricate a story to cover his own lies is unfathomable,” Hollis said. “We trust members of our Pittsburgh city police to ensure our safety; clearly that didn’t happen on July 17, 2012, in Mr. Paul Parrish’s regard.”
Hollis said his client is now filing a complaint because he is concerned that others may be subjected to the same kind of treatment that he received at the hands of the officers involved.
“Mr. Parrish is very concerned that this matter not be dismissed (and) would like there to be some sanctions against any officer that was involved. That doesn’t just pertain to officer Robert Ross, who struck him, that pertains to any officer that witnessed the event (and) that did not take significant measures to ensure his safety, which is what they’re responsibility is,” said Hollis. “That (also) goes for any supervisor that was aware of the incident and didn’t take adequate measures to ensure that proper safety measures and standards were being followed.”
Since the incident, Hollis said, he was told that one of the officers was suspended, but that beyond that he doesn’t know if there has been further action taken against any of the officers involved.
Public Information Officer for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Safety Sonya Toler would not comment on the lawsuit, but did confirm that Ross, along with officers Gary Messer, David Lang, Mark Pisano, and Sgt. David Lydic, all of which were also involved in the pursuit or arrest of Parrish, are still employed by the Pittsburgh Police Bureau.
“There was an internal review of the matter two years ago and it was dealt with appropriately and expediently,” she said.
According to a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article published June 13, titled “Brentwood man files complaint over arrest by Pittsburgh police,” Ross said he was suspended for three days due to this incident. He also said that due to the direction of his police vehicle, certain events of the arrest weren’t captured, such as him giving verbal commands for Parrish to get back in the vehicle and that Parrish was not adhering to any of them. He is also quoted in the article as saying, “I could have shot him, and I probably would have been justified in doing so, the way he pulled from that vehicle.”
Along with plans to file the federal lawsuit, Hollis said he also sent a packet of the case to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and to the Pittsburgh Citizens Police Review Board, but has yet to hear back from either of them.
Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of PCPRB, could not give much comment, but did say there is an inquiry regarding Parrish’s case open and that it will be presented to the board at the June 24 meeting, at which time the board will decide whether or not to move forward with the incident. She also said there is a question about the force used, specifically with regards to the pistol being used to strike Parrish.
Ford, who also has filed a lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Police for his November 2012 incident of a “routine” traffic stop that should have resulted in him receiving a ticket, instead of him being shot several times by a Zone 5 police officer, leaving him paralyzed, said he did watch the video, but declined to comment due to his ongoing criminal case.
“Regardless of his background, regardless of the number of arrests that he may have had, he was entitled to be treated with civility. There are courts of law that exact justice. Mr. Parrish was to be tried in a court of law; that should not have happened on our public streets,” said Hollis. “If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video speaks a million.”
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