Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

School Police Chief's Job on Line over Traffic Stop

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

School Police Chief's Job on Line over Traffic Stop

Article excerpt

Last summer, Pittsburgh Public Schools police Chief Robert Fadzen pulled over an ambulance on Route 65 that he claimed had been driving erratically Downtown in a non-emergency situation.

He did not cite the driver, explaining that he exercised his discretion and believed assurances that the man's bosses would handle the problem internally.

"This was a simple traffic stop," Chief Fadzen testified Wednesday. "It was something that a week later, who cares?"

Chief Fadzen, who has run the school police since 1996, learned that the district cared very much -- enough to suspend him pending termination over accusations of improper conduct during the traffic stop.

The district's formal effort to fire Chief Fadzen began Wednesday with the first of what might be four days of testimony during a dismissal hearing at school district headquarters in Oakland.

Typically, such hearings are closed, but the chief asked that his be opened to the public.

Stacey Vernallis, special counsel to the school administration, said in her opening statement that the chief not only overstepped his authority in pulling over a vehicle that was not on school grounds, owned by the district or transporting students or district personnel, but that he has engaged in a "pattern of dangerously exceeding his jurisdiction and authority."

Ms. Vernallis told a hearing officer that Chief Fadzen "refuses to follow the law."

Chief Fadzen's attorney, Ralston Jackson, deferred his opening statement but asked observers and the hearing officer, Carl P. Beard, an Altoona attorney with expertise in school matters, to keep an open mind.

Many facets of the case are in dispute except for that Chief Fadzen pulled over an ambulance belonging to NorthWest EMS of McKees Rocks in July.

The sparring sides disagree about even the date of the stop -- the district said it was July 22, but the chief said that was impossible because he was in the hospital with chest pains that day. …

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