Officers stole handguns, officials say

Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA), FINAL EDITION, LOCAL/STATE; Pg. A03
BYLINE: Of the Patriot-News MATTHEW KEMENY

Harrisburg, PA

As a patrol sergeant working his way through the Harrisburg police force in the early 1990s, Chief Pierre Ritter recalls a traffic stop in which he found not only drugs but more than $60,000 in cash stuffed inside a shaving kit.

Ritter said that he easily could have pocketed $30,000 and turned in the rest, but that his integrity prevented him from doing that.

The point is, there's no way a police department can completely ensure its officers are always doing the right things, but it can take steps to prevent wrongdoing, Ritter said.

Ritter's comments came Friday in the wake of two officers -- one retired and one on the force -- being accused of stealing handguns earmarked for destruction from the department's evidence room.

City officials said that the men took the guns for their private use and that no cases were compromised. The department has taken steps to ensure against it happening again, they said.

According to officials, Patrolman David Earl Black, 43, of Mechanicsburg, and retired officer Frank Peskie, 59, of Highspire, were at separate times property management officers. Their jobs included handling, taking inventory of and destroying evidence.

Black, who's been with the force almost 20 years, was charged with felony theft and evidence tampering. He has been suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the case. If convicted, he could lose his pension, Ritter said.

Peskie, who retired about a decade ago after about 30 years, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of theft by receiving stolen property because the statute of limitations on felony theft charges had expired, authorities said.

Black and Peskie were arraigned and released on their own recognizance. It's unclear if they've obtained attorneys and neither could be reached for comment Friday.

Shortly after the investigation began late last year, the department began staffing the evidence room with a supervisor in addition to an officer, Ritter said.

The department also started having internal affairs officers videotape firearms that are tagged for destruction to make sure all items are accounted for before the guns are taken to Bethlehem steel or the city incinerator to be destroyed, he said.

Ritter estimated the city collects about six firearms a week as evidence.

The investigation began in November when Peskie's daughter, Dolores Williams, was pulled over in a traffic stop and told officers she had a handgun on her that her father gave her, according to court records. Police checked the gun, a Beretta Tomcat, and discovered it was stolen, according to court records.

Peskie told officers he intended to purchase the gun from its owner but he was never able to do that, court records state. The gun was in the evidence room labeled for destruction, but Peskie took it for himself, records state.

Shortly afterward, police conducted a review of all evidence room records and discovered a different gun, one that was supposed to have been destroyed, was transferred to Black, according to court records. Black was interviewed and admitted taking the gun, records state.

No other evidence was found to be missing, police said.

"We will not tolerate this type of behavior. Police officers don't get a free pass when it comes to the law," Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson said during a news conference Friday in which the arrests were announced. "It is an embarrassment for the City of Harrisburg."

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