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Pittsburgh-area official claims 'cover-up' in hotel incident

George Hunter
The Detroit News
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner outside Frank Murphy Hall of Justice

A Pittsburgh-area elected official who is charged with obstructing police during an alleged ruckus at a downtown Detroit hotel in March said Tuesday she is the victim of a "cover-up" involving destroyed evidence.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner was in Wayne County Circuit Court for a hearing Tuesday in connection with the March 6 incident in the Westin Book Cadillac

Wagner is charged with one count of resisting and obstructing the police, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison, and one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.

Her husband, Khari Mosley, also is charged with disorderly conduct and another misdemeanor, disturbing the peace.

Following Tuesday's brief hearing, in which Judge Regina D. Thomas set a Nov. 12 trial date, Wagner told reporters outside Frank Murphy Hall of Justice that hotel staff had destroyed evidence, and that there was a cover-up.

When asked to elaborate, Wagner said: "I think it’s all coordinated. As you know, the hotel has now destroyed evidence we had requested in advance, so there’s a lot of wrongdoing here, and a lot of layers of wrongdoing."

When asked what evidence had been destroyed, Wagner's attorney Kevin Mincey said: "That will come out in court. There were certain items we asked to be preserved; we have now been informed they have not been preserved."

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Maria Miller said: "There was nothing mentioned about this when the attorney for defendant was in court this morning. We are unaware of what she is referencing."

Westin officials did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment. 

Wayne County prosecutors allege Wagner interfered with Detroit police officers as they were preparing to remove her husband from the hotel. The couple were in Detroit for a concert.

The problems allegedly began when Mosley, who was at the hotel bar while his wife went to their room, asked for a room key. Hotel employees explained that they couldn't give him a key, since Mosley's surname is different from his wife's, and he was not registered to the room, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors say Mosley became belligerent, and that hotel staff called police. According to video of the incident, which was played during Wagner's preliminary exam, police went to Wagner's room, and there were verbal exchanges, including Wagner telling an officer, "I'm the highest-ranking elected official in my county," to which the cop replied, "I'm not in your county." 

At one point, video shows one of the officers going back to the squad car and letting Mosley out. He immediately raises his hands and says: "Hands up, don't shoot. I'm not a threat."

A hotel security guard asks the police to kick Mosley out of the hotel. "We've got guests who are waking up," the guard says.

Wagner comes out of her room wearing a University of Chicago jersey and reaches toward one of the officers, who tells her: "Don't touch me." Another officer tells Wagner that hotel security wants her husband kicked out of the hotel, and then asks her: "Would you like to leave with him? He's got to go."

Wagner takes a step forward, and is seen on video reaching out and grabbing an officer's arms as she says: "No, no, this is my hotel."

"Ma'am, why are your hands on me?" the officer asks. "You're on camera."

"This is my hotel room," Wagner repeats multiple times. "Please Tase me."

Mosley then enters the picture and Wagner tells him, "please sit down," then continues arguing with the officers. At one point, an officer pulls out his yellow Taser stun gun, but holsters it.

An officer says of Wagner: "We're done talking to her. She don't want to behave." He then walks Mosley, whose hands are cuffed behind his back, down the hotel corridor. Wagner follows, filming with her phone.

Police footage then shows Wagner partially blocking the elevator entrance as police lead her husband toward it.

"Would you move out of our way, please, ma'am?" one of the cops asks. The video shows Wagner reaching out and grabbing the officer's forearms. He says, "Ma'am, you put your hands on me; now you have to go to jail." She replies: "Good."

As Wagner grapples with the cop, her husband stands nearby, saying: "Chelsa, they're bugging out. Chill."

After a brief struggle, the cop appears to shove Wagner away, and she falls to the ground. She screams, "I just want to know the reason you just assaulted me. I want my attorney ... let me tell you something: I'm the highest-ranking (expletive) female elected official ... I've never been arrested."

The officer handcuffed Wagner and took her away. When Mosley asks him why his wife is being detained, the cop replies, "She assaulted me. If you get an attorney, subpoena the video."

The officer again tells Mosley that Westin staff want him to leave the hotel. He tells them he'll find another place to sleep.

Wagner said Tuesday: "I think you can see when you view the video, that the officer threw me to the ground, and so to substantiate that, they’re claiming that I did something wrong.

"If the Westin Hotel would’ve handled this correctly, we would’ve never been in this situation," she said. "And it was never characterized for what it was, which was my husband asked for a room key, and within minutes being told he didn’t belong there, because he had the audacity to ask for a room key, when we were in a reservation under two names? It’s unbelievable. Otherwise, we had a fantastic date night on our trip to the city of Detroit.”

Mincey added: "These tactics aren’t new. Often when officers get caught acting inappropriately … they do what they need to do to protect themselves."

Mincey said the prosecution was overreaching. "A two-week investigation to charge Mr. Mosley with a couple misdemeanors, and charge Ms. Wagner, who was on video being thrown to the ground? It shows the lengths of what they went through to try and …protect themselves,” he said.

During Tuesday's hearing, Wagner's other attorney, Charles Longstreet, asked Thomas to drop the charges against his client. The judge refused.

However, Thomas honored the defense's request to drop a requirement for Wagner to report by phone each week, after Longstreet said the phone system "hung up" on her when she tried to phone in.

"It's intimidating if you don't know that phone system," Longstreet said.

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Erika Tusar said the people expect to call eight witnesses during the trial. Longstreet said the defense plans to call five witnesses.

When the judge asked Longstreet how long he expected the trial to last, he said, "two weeks," to which the judge replied: "Two weeks? For resisting and obstructing? I'm not going to set aside two weeks for that."