February 13, 2002

Inquirer: West Chester Judge finds police video was erased

Judge finds police video was erased

He threw out several charges against a suspect who alleged brutality, saying West Chester police mishandled evidence.


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WEST CHESTER — Concluding that West Chester police had mishandled a surveillance videotape, a judge dismissed charges against a Thorndale man yesterday, saying the portion of the tape that likely would have exonerated the defendant had been erased.

Chester County Judge Thomas G. Gavin threw out charges of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and criminal attempt escape against Brian Joseph Brennan, 23, who is living in Destin, Fla. However, the judge found that sufficient evidence existed to try Brennan on charges of theft, public drunkeness, and disorderly conduct.

Jake Griffin, Brennan’s civil attorney, said that he would file a civil suit and that the FBI was actively pursuing an investigation.

“This case has definitely tweaked their interest,” Griffin said.

Linda Vizi, an FBI spokeswoman, said the bureau does not “confirm or deny investigations.”

West Chester Police Lt. D. Jeffrey Johnson said he was unable to comment on the ruling because the District Attorney’s Office had not yet told the department about the decision. District Attorney Joseph W. Carroll was unavailable for comment.

“What began as the ‘purloined pineapple prank’ evolved into either a case of resisting arrest or police brutality, depending on who is believed,” the judge’s opinion began.

According to testimony at a December hearing, West Chester police were called to a borough home because a resident reported that a man had stolen an ornamental concrete pineapple and run in the direction of a nearby apartment complex.

Police said they apprehended Brennan at a party in the apartment building and took him to the West Chester police station, where he resisted arrest and required five officers to subdue him.

According to Thomas Boylan Bellwoar, Brennan’s criminal attorney, Brennan said that police assaulted him. Bellwoar said that when police finally turned over the surveillance tape from the police processing room, the beginning of the segment involving Brennan – which would have shown who initiated the altercation – had been taped over.

“Who is not familiar with the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words?’ I am struck by the fact that only the disputed portion of the altercation is missing from the tape!” the judge’s opinion said.

G. Robin Gilmore, the founder of Video Editing Centers, a video production company, had testified that the erasure would have required a multi-step procedure and could not have been accidental, as suggested by Sean Ryan Petty, a former part-time dispatcher for the West Chester Police Department, and Joe Pope, a video expert called by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“I find the defendant’s expert to be more credible and his analysis more perceptive than the commonwealth’s expert,” Gavin’s ruling said. “It defies credibility to suppose that the tape was rewound accidentally to the critical spot and then accidentally taped over.”

Gavin said that considering the evidence in the case, “I can only infer that the deleted pictures were exculpatory.”


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Posted In: Criminal Case