Sunday, January 13, 2008

Heidi Gill Followup: triggerman cop won't appear, charges dropped, officials backpedal madly.

heidi gill taser richard kovach warren ohioAn earlier post describes Warren policeman Richard Kovach's unwarranted, prolonged, repeated tasering of Heidi Gill on September 2nd of last year. This week the Warren (Ohio) Tribune-Chronicle and the Coshocton Tribune reported that charges against Heidi were dropped because Kovach refused to testify, and a charge against her of felony assault on a police officer was dismissed because Kovach was the subject of an internal investigation and unavailable to testify.

Heidi was seated alone in a vehicle waiting for a ride home when attacked. For this she earned taser burns and a concussion, and was charged with falsification, resisting arrest, criminal damaging and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. This is the typical official response to police misbehavior- charge the victim with anything to muddy the water, delay proceedings, and drive up legal fees. Refuse to admit wrongdoing even when it's captured by your own cruiser dash cam and splattered all over TV and the internet- watch the video here.

Kovach is on a downhill roll: he was fired Dec. 6 by Warren Safety-Service Director Doug Franklin after appealing a 10-day suspension for wrongdoing during a traffic stop of another police officer’s son. Franklin fired Kovach, a 13-year veteran, for dishonesty, claiming he lied during the investigation into the Aug. 23 traffic stop of Timothy Brown II. Brown's filed a federal lawsuit naming the City of Warren, its Police Department, and Kovach both as an individual and in his official capacity, claiming his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights were violated.

Kovach's actions during Gill’s arrest are under investigation by the FBI. Gill’s attorney, Mark Hanni, said he has prepared a federal lawsuit against Kovach, the Warren Police Department and the city of Warren, and plans to file the $15 million action next week.

Officials are circling the wagons to protect Kovach and, failing that, to wash their hands of the incident. Warren Law Director Traci Timko Rose sought dismissal of the charges against Heidi without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled later. Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association attorney S. Randall Weltman advised that his client would not testify, and if subpoenaed, would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. OPBA lead defense attorney Dominic Vitantonio recommended Kovach not take the stand because the FBI probe is ongoing and Kovach’s firing is heading to arbitration.

This case is a good example of the problems tasers create. Handguns leave large, bleeding holes that can't be concealed or litigated away, so they're unlikely to be used unless the situation truly requires it. Tasers, originally touted as a less- lethal option one step below shooting, allow cops to attack anyone for any reason without producing a corpse. This encourages misuse and allows city and police officials to dissemble and play the litigation game they know so very well.