An Allegheny County judge has ordered three Pittsburgh police officers to testify before the Citizen Police Review Board, rejecting union arguments that the officers could not be forced to cooperate.
The order, issued by Common Pleas Judge John McVay Jr. on May 23, reinforces the subpoena power of the Citizen Police Review Board, which is investigating Officer Matthew Gardner for misconduct during a 2015 arrest.
The board subpoenaed Officer Gardner and two other officers to testify at a public hearing in January about the 2015 incident. But all three officers refused to testify, prompting the CPRB to ask a judge to force them to cooperate.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1 attorney Chris Cimballa argued that the CPRB could not subpoena the officers because it is an agent of the city of Pittsburgh — and an agreement between the city and union forbids the city from forcing officers to cooperate with the board.
Judge McVay rejected that argument, instead ruling that the CPRB is an independent board and not subject to the agreement between the city and union.
Judge McVay referred to a 2003 case in Commonwealth Court in which the courts made the same decision about the same issue.
The order did not address a second part of the union’s argument — if the CPRB is not an agent of the city, it no longer has subpoena power because that power comes from the city’s authority.
“To the extent that the CPRB asserts that it is an independent agency, not subject to the city’s collective bargaining agreement, it is asserted that the CPRB has no lawful subpoena power,” says a complaint filed by Mr. Cimballa.
Mr. Cimballa said the union had not decided whether to appeal to Commonwealth Court.
CPRB executive director Elizabeth Pittinger said the union would appeal “at their own peril,” and added that Judge McVay’s decision matches what the courts decided in 2003.
“It’s a reaffirmation of the answers that we received 14 years ago,” she said.
A date for the board’s hearing has not been set.