Police officer acquitted on 5 of 6 counts from October incident

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Police officer acquitted on 5 of 6 counts from October incident

A 47-year-old white police officer allegedly harassed two black Pitt students near Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street.

A 47-year-old white police officer allegedly harassed two black Pitt students near Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street.

Leela Ekambarapu | Staff Photographer

A 47-year-old white police officer allegedly harassed two black Pitt students near Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street.

Leela Ekambarapu | Staff Photographer

Leela Ekambarapu | Staff Photographer

A 47-year-old white police officer allegedly harassed two black Pitt students near Fifth Avenue and Atwood Street.

By Jon Moss, Assistant News Editor

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A 47-year-old white police officer was found guilty in a non-jury trial Monday on one of the six charges filed against him — which include two counts each of simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct — resulting from an off-duty incident last October involving two unarmed black Pitt students. He was sentenced to 45 days of probation, a $300 fine and no contact with the victims due to the one guilty count of disorderly conduct.

The incident began on the night of Oct. 10, 2018, when Aaron Hill, then a Pitt senior and president of Pitt’s National Pan-Hellenic Council, and Stanley Umeweni, then a Pitt senior and member of SGB’s allocations committee, were walking west on Fifth Avenue to cross Atwood Street.

The two men saw a red Jeep approach the intersection to make a left turn onto Fifth Avenue, and heard the vehicle’s horn blown excessively, according to a criminal complaint filed in late October 2018 by Pitt police. Anthony Ricchiuto, an off-duty police officer who was driving the Jeep, told the two men to meet them at the corner of Fifth and Meyran avenues, one block ahead. Ricchiuto’s younger brother Brian was riding in the car with him.

According to Hill, the two Ricchiuto brothers got out of the car and began walking towards him and Umeweni. Anthony Ricchiuto then lifted his shirt and placed his hand on a gun holster on his waistline, Hill said. Umeweni and Hill began to walk backwards from the two Ricchiuto brothers, and Umeweni told them that he and Hill were not armed and they should “back off.”

According to Umeweni, Brian Ricchiuto then moved in front of his older brother, said “I don’t need a gun,” and struck Umeweni in the arm. The Ricchiuto brothers then turned and ran back to the red Jeep. Brian Ricchiuto would later plead guilty in February to two counts of harassment, one each against Hill and Umeweni.

Pitt spokesperson Kevin Zwick said in an email the safety of students is the University’s highest priority.

Over his career, Anthony Ricchiuto has worked for at least five different Pittsburgh area police departments — Point Park University and UPMC, as well as the boroughs of Swissvale, Avalon and Braddock Hills. Ricchiuto has worked as a patrol officer for the Braddock Hills Police Department since December 2016, according to an open records request filed by The Pitt News.

Hill, who has now started at the University of Toledo’s law school in Ohio, said he was very disappointed with the trial’s verdict handed down by Judge Robert Colville.

“After hearing all of the testimony, seeing all of the video, all of that kind of stuff, the judge ruled for Mr. Ricchiuto — which is wild — on the reasoning that he doesn’t believe that seeing a gun is physical enough to cause physical menace or cause an assault,” Hill said. “I can see the world in which he would rule that way. I don’t believe it because of the facts of the case.”

He added that he was already on his way back to Ohio when he found out about the verdict.

“I was very angry … All of my trauma was mitigated to disorderly conduct,” Hill said. “It really hurt my faith in the law and how the justice system works.”

Hill said the prosecutor handling the case, assigned by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s office, was changed days before the trial from one more experienced to a recent law school graduate.

Mike Manko, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office, declined to comment.

But Hill added he doesn’t place all blame on the prosecutors — he also points to unique aspects of Pennsylvania’s laws regarding assaults.

“Other states don’t have this physical menace aspect — they require something else to show an assault,” Hill said. “I would advocate fully for a re-looking of how this is done.”

Despite the trial’s outcome, Hill said he is still committed to finishing law school and practicing as a criminal lawyer.

“I’m still dedicated to my craft of trying to understand the law, and bring it and make it more accessible to people who don’t understand it in my community,” Hill said. “I think I’m more aware of how laws and how the legal practice affects everyday lives.”

Umeweni did not respond to requests for comment.

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