State police accused of brutality in video
An Internet video accusing Pennsylvania State Police of brutality against a New York man has been circulating though Bradford County.
The incident involves a traffic stop which took place in 2010 on a vehicle being driven by Robert Charles Leone, 33, of Vestal, N.Y.
On his website, Larry Hohol, who created the video, calls himself the "spokesman" for the Leone family and says "it is my hope that this video will outrage you to the point of taking action. But for the grace of God, this could have been your child or family member that these horrific acts happened to."
In the video, Hohol, who also says that he is a former police officer in Luzerne and a graduate of the Pennsylvania State Police Academy for Municipal Officers, offers commentary over police camera footage, which he says has been edited but claims is "available in its entirety," though he does not identify where the unedited video can be viewed.
According to the official police complaint, on March 8, 2010 at 10:20 p.m., state police responded to a report of a black Pontiac with New York state registration being driven erratically on Route 6 westbound. As police waited to intercept the vehicle, they were informed that the same vehicle was alleged to have been involved in a hit-and-run accident at the Dandy Mini-Mart in North Towanda.
At this point, police spotted the vehicle driving past the police cruiser east of Troy and took measures to pull the vehicle over. This included following the vehicle with lights and sirens. Both police and Hohol agree that Leone was required to pull over at this point, but failed to do so. Hohol also admits that upon hearing the sirens, Leone turned up the radio of his vehicle in an attempt to drown the sirens out.
While Hohol admits that Leone should have pulled over when he saw the lights of the police cruiser, he speculates in the video that Leone suffers from a bi-polar condition, and thus would have been unable to use good judgement in obeying the police.
"The thought that perhaps he should pull over never entered his mind," he said. "In his mind, he had done nothing wrong."
State police responded by utilizing spike strips and special driving maneuvers to stop the car. According to police, Leone attempted to strike one of the patrol cars with his vehicle and nearly struck an unrelated vehicle travelling eastbound. At this point, police say they stopped the vehicle using a technique known as a "pit maneuver" to knock the vehicle off the road.
What happened when the vehicle was stopped is a point of contention between the state police and Hohol, who offer two greatly differing stories.
According to police, Leone was ordered to get out of the vehicle and place his hands behind his back, but he refused to comply. At this point, police say that the officers first used an electronic stun gun to attempt to incapacitate Leone, but that the stun gun was ineffective. Police then said that they used "reasonable and necessary physical force" to extract Leone from the vehicle, but Leone continued to struggle with them, though they were eventually able to handcuff him.
Hohol said that Leone was unable to exit the vehicle due to his door being blocked by a police vehicle, though the vehicle had its top removed.
Much of the incident to this point was obscured by the door of Leone's vehicle, though Leone can be seen moving beneath the door. Hohol says the footage appears to be showing Leone being thrown to the ground several times, though he admits that the door's obstruction does not allow a clear view of the incident.
In an interview with The Review, Hohol also claims that Leone and his family have been able to view video footage from another police cruiser which he said clearly shows a helpless Leone being assaulted by police. Hohol said that the video is in the possession of the county public defender's office and that he has subpoenaed it for use in the federal case.
After police handcuffed Leone, the report states that Leone spit in the face of one of the troopers as he was attempting to secure him in a seat belt, at which time Leone was removed from the vehicle and placed in additional restraints.
While no video is available of Leone's time in the backseat, the camera did pick up audio, which reveals that troopers used vulgar language toward Leone, at one point responding to Leone's comment that he was "having a tough night" by telling him that "you're going to have a h--- of a lot tougher night after spitting in my f---ing face, jack---."
Hohol claims that the audio indicates to him that officers were assaulting Leone.
Hohol said that originally, Leone, who he described as "in fear of his life," said that he may have accidentally spit on the officer when he was screaming or crying, but that he did not do it intentionally. But he also said that Leone felt that he would be better off if he had apologized for doing so, even if he did it accidentally.
After being restrained, Leone was taken to Memorial Hospital in Towanda for medical care.
Hohol also says that hospital records described Leone as "calm" when he was brought into the hospital and that Leone tried to inform nurses that he was being abused by the police. Hohol said that officers then ordered all hospital personnel out of the room and further assaulted Leone. But according to police, Leone was stunned with the electronic stun device after he attempted to strike one of the officers and was placed back into restraints. At this point, a blood screening was done on Leone, but results of the testing have not been officially released, though Hohol said those results showed no trace of drugs or alcohol in Leone's system. Hohol said that he is still trying to obtain video accounts of this time in question, but has been unable to do so.
Bradford County District Attorney Dan Barrett said that his information indicates that Leone was under the influence of "some intoxicant" and that he was also under the influence of Aderall.
"The sad fact is that drug abuse takes people to a bad result," Barrett said. Leone wound up assaulting police and having his face injured. Dozens of others have been killed by running into trees, rolling their vehicles over, taking overdoses and other forms of untimely death."
During the video, Hohol said that prison officials were "horrified" at Leone's condition when he was brought in. Hohol based this statement on comments that guards at the prison allegedly made to Leone during his incarceration.
Hohol also said in the video that Leone requested additional medical testing and aid and was willing to pay for it with his own medical insurance, but that request was denied.
While Hohol said that prison doctors did examine Leone, "the jail does not have an MRI or a CAT scan, and when Leone is released, we will have it done for him. He is still suffering pain and neurological damage."
Police say that they attempted to have Leone arraigned by closed circuit television from the North Towanda barracks. Hohol said that during the processing, Leone told the magistrate on duty that he was being abused, at which time the video link was interrupted. Leone claims that during this time, he was again assaulted by officers.
Police say that while attempting to transport Leone to the Bradford County Jail, Leone kicked an officer in the leg in an attempt to flee the scene before he was subdued with OC pepper spray and a police baton. Leone was returned to Memorial Hospital and re-examined before being released and returned to the barracks for additional charges before being transported to Bradford County Jail.
Hohol claims that Leone was unconscious when taken to the hospital, but did not show any hospital record indicating that.
Leone was charged in the affidavit with 22 counts, including five counts each of simple assault and reckless endangerment, as well as three counts of aggravated assault, as well as counts of escape, resisting arrest, fleeing a police officer, DUI and several counts stemming from his fleeing the accident scene at the Dandy Mini-Mart in North Towanda.
On Oct. 4, 2010, Leone was convicted of four of 11 of the counts that went to the jury. Those charges included simple assault, accidents involving damage to attended vehicles, fleeing or eluding police and resisting arrest. Leone was sentenced to a period of 16 to 48 months in jail and was ordered to pay $1,800 in fines, along with restitution and court costs.
Leone was found not guilty of the remaining seven charges.
Barrett said the simple assault charge he was convicted of involved Leone assaulting an officer at the hospital in front of hospital employees, though Hohol said in the video that the witness to the incident refused to testify "out of fear for her safety." Barrett also said the accidents involving damage to attended vehicle charge was also witness by the vehicle's occupants, a woman and her children.
Barrett said the remaining 11 charges did not go to the jury, and said such instances are not unusual.
"Under Pennsylvania legal procedure, it is very difficult to add charges," he said. "So prosecutors and police tend to include any applicable charges to the complaint and then will drop charges during the process to present its most concise case."
Hohol also said that Bradford County Jail Warden Donald Stewart described him as a model prisoner, quoting Stewart as saying that "if all our inmates were like (Leone), we wouldn't need guards."
Stewart told The Review that while he is prevented by law from commenting on Leone's behavior and activities in the jail, he denies making the alleged statement to Hohol or anyone else.
"I have no idea where that came from," he said.
Leone has been denied parole on multiple occasions, and Hohol claims that it is being done to make it difficult for him to file criminal charges against the officers involved before the statute of limitations expires on the potential charges.
Officials at the Bradford County Department of Probation were not available to provide a reason for the denials, but Barrett says that many factors are considered in granting parole, such as whether or not the inmate has completed assigned drug and alcohol courses.
Barrett also said that an outstanding warrant against Leone by Broome County, N.Y., could have been a factor.
While Hohol admits that it is common for suspects to claim police brutality, "it's not often someone who makes such a claim gets a video account of the claim."
On his website, Hohol says that "there has been a high level cover up of this entire matter by the Pennsylvania State Police Office of Integrity and Professional Standards as well as the Prosecuting District Attorney of Bradford County Pennsylvania. The judge who heard this case also appears to have a great deal of culpability as demonstrated by some very biased rulings during Mr. Leone's trial as well as some other very questionable business connections within Bradford County." Hohol did not elaborate on these allegations of judicial misconduct.
Hohol said that the state police investigation that cleared the officers of any wrongdoing was nothing more than a cover-up of the incident and has called for a federal investigation.
Cpl. Robert Grimes of the Pennsylvania State Police in Towanda said that the police have no comment on the video, saying that the allegations are part of an ongoing legal matter.