Arnold officers say no excessive force used in arrest that was captured on video

Sign up for one of our email newsletters.Updated 15 hours ago Two white Arnold police officers who chased and used force during the arrest of a black man as he attempted to flee on foot following a low-speed car chase denied any wrongdoing in court Friday....

Arnold officers say no excessive force used in arrest that was captured on video

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Updated 15 hours ago

Two white Arnold police officers who chased and used force during the arrest of a black man as he attempted to flee on foot following a low-speed car chase denied any wrongdoing in court Friday.

Patrolman Wesley Biricocchi and Officer Joshua Stanga repeatedly testified they did not use excessive force to take down and arrest Justin Harvey, 40, of New Kensington during the incident last month, which a passerby recorded on a cellphone and disseminated on social media.

Defense attorney Todd Hollis asked the officers if they kicked and punched Harvey in the head as he lay facedown on the ground, placed him in a choke hold and slammed his head into a car as they tried to arrest him.

“Never,” Biriocchi testified.

Following a two-hour hearing at the Westmoreland County Courthouse, New Kensington District Judge Frank Pallone ordered that Harvey stand trial on charges of resisting arrest, fleeing police officers, illegal possession of a firearm and other offenses.

Pallone said he moved the preliminary hearing from New Kensington to Greensburg so additional security could be provided and to accommodate spectators, although few attended.

The officers testified Harvey's car swerved into oncoming traffic and they pulled him over. During the traffic stop, Biricocchi said he smelled marijuana. When the officer asked Harvey to get out of the car, he drove off. A car chase ensued, although Biricocchi testified the vehicles did not exceed about 35 mph.

Harvey eventually ran from the car and appeared to point a loaded gun toward police, which he later threw over a fence, Biricocchi testified.

The officer said he caught up to Harvey in a New Kensington backyard, drew his service revolver and grabbed him by the arm, twisted him around and swept his legs out to force him to the ground in a “tactical take-down.”

“Mr. Harvey continued to resist. He would not surrender his hands for handcuffs,” Biricocchi testified.

During the scuffle, Stanga twice attempted to use a Taser on Harvey, but it had little effect, he said. The Taser actually shocked Biricocchi, who was in physical contact with Harvey when the weapon was deployed, Stanga said.

Video of the arrest went viral in the days that followed and, according to Hollis, showed police using excessive force during the arrest.

“If a picture speaks a thousand words, a video speaks a million,” Hollis said after the hearing.

Hollis said he intends to file a civil rights lawsuit against police based on the evidence in the video.

The video was not played in court Friday.

“We didn't need it,” Assistant District Attorney Larry Koenig said.

Harvey did not testify during the hearing, as only the two police officers presented evidence.

Hollis said Harvey, who is free on bail, suffered a depressed lung, multiple physical and mental wounds, and lacerations during the incident.

At least two officers, one from Arnold and another from the New Kensington department, which assisted during the arrest, were suspended as District Attorney John Peck investigates the allegations of excessive force.

Peck said Friday the investigation is ongoing but declined to provide any additional information about the probe, including the identity of the suspended officers.

Biricocchi, who is the son of Arnold Mayor Karen Peconi Biricocchi, appeared in court Friday in plain clothes while Stanga was in uniform.

“I don't know if this was racially motivated, but it doesn't matter. He is entitled to be treated fairly,” Hollis said. “The video speaks for itself. Whether this is race-related or not race-related, they violated his constitutional rights as a person.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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