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POLICE TURMOIL Break-in reveals late officer's files in disarray



Published: Sun, July 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The officer was shot inside the station in March.

EASTON, Pa. (AP) -- Days before grand jury testimony is scheduled in the case of a patrolman fatally shot inside the city police station, someone apparently broke into the chief's office and rifled through the deceased officer's file.

The break-in, which comes as two new reports emerge criticizing the department, occurred overnight Thursday.

Police officials believe someone in the department got into Chief Stephen A. Mazzeo's office, pried open a file cabinet and went through a file on Jesse Sollman. Sollman was fatally shot inside the police station in March, but few details have been released on his death.

The cabinet contained files of letters, memos and training materials, and a file for Sollman that contained awards and certificates he received over his 11-year career. It was not a personnel file and contained no information on the investigation into Sollman's death, police said.

Suspicious timing

Mazzeo said he did not believe it was a coincidence the burglary happened the same week city police were subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury Monday in Harrisburg.

"The timing has to be a question," Mazzeo said. "The attorney general delivered subpoenas Tuesday and Wednesday, and this break-in occurred immediately after that. And the only file that was apparently touched was Jesse Sollman's file."

Sollman, 36, had just finished SWAT training at police headquarters on March 25 when he was shot in the back with a handgun. The other officer in the room at the time, Matthew Renninger, has been on paid administrative leave while state police investigate.

A consultant's report released Friday said the special weapons and tactical team should be disbanded because it drains resources and puts the city at risk for more lawsuits.

The report was prepared by Keystone Municipal Services as part of a review of city finances. It supports the findings of a report by the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association released this week, detailing 103 items the department must address to get association accreditation.

The new reports say the city hasn't updated policies and procedures for years; they also point out inadequacies in training, problems with the storage of weapons, ammunition and evidence, and other issues.

State takeover

Keystone recommended the city transfer SWAT team responsibilities to an outside organization, such as the state police, to reduce the city's insurance costs and exposure to lawsuits. Only one of six lawsuits filed in recent years against the department involved a response by the SWAT team.

Mazzeo said the city hasn't decided whether to dismantle the SWAT team.

Mayor Phil Mitman's chief of staff, Stu Gallaher, said the administration wants to wait for a third independent consultant's report before discussing the recommendations.

The city hired all three groups to get advice on how to reduce its liability in civil rights lawsuits alleging excessive force by police officers.

Since May 2003, after a jury verdict resulted in a $1.9 million settlement with three men attacked by police and their dogs after a 1997 high school football game, the city and its insurance company have settled three lawsuits involving the police for nearly $2.7 million.

Four lawsuits cited the department's failure to update policies, train officers, follow procedures and address disciplinary problems.




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