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Weather delays Pittsburgh-area official's trial on resisting, obstructing police charges

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — The trial of a Pittsburgh-area official accused of interfering with police officers at a downtown Detroit hotel eight months ago was delayed Tuesday after inclement weather kept potential jurors away.

A pool of only 24 jury candidates appeared in Wayne Circuit Court for the trial of Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who is accused of interfering with Detroit police officers on March 6 as they were preparing to remove her husband, Khari Mosley, from the Westin Book Cadillac hotel. The couple were in Detroit for a concert.

Allegheny (Pa.) County Controller Chelsea Wagner stands with co-council Kevin Mincey, left, and Charles Longstreet, II, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, prior to her jury trial on two counts of resisting and obstructing Detroit police officers at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel last March.

Wayne Circuit Judge Dalton Roberson said the jury pool was low because of "the bad weather." After several potential jurors were dismissed for various reasons, the judge ordered the trial to reconvene Thursday, adding it'll likely wrap up by Monday.

Wagner, who easily won re-election to her third term as county controller last week, is charged with resisting and obstructing the police, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison, and one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors announced at the beginning of Tuesday's hearing that they'd offered Wagner a deal to plead guilty to disturbing the peace, without having to report for probation. Wagner's attorney Charles Longstreet told the judge she rejected the deal.

If Wagner is found guilty, she could be forced to resign, as Pennsylvania law prohibits anyone convicted of "infamous crimes" from holding public office.

There were several outbursts of laughter in the courtroom while attorneys and the judge questioned potential jurors. In one exchange, a member of the jury pool, a Detroit kindergarten teacher, was asked if there are any police officers in her family.

"Yes, my boyfriend is a police officer in Texas," the woman said.

"Your boyfriend is in Texas? How's that work?" the judge asked.

The woman replied: "It's a long story."

Mosley was charged with disorderly conduct and another misdemeanor, disturbing the peace, in connection with the March incident, and a jury in July acquitted him of the charges. Wagner's attorneys are not allowed to mention his acquittal during her trial.

Wagner has maintained her innocence, insisting police overstepped their boundaries during the incident, which began shortly after midnight March 6 with a 911 call about a disturbance at the hotel.

The prosecution’s witness list includes a 911 dispatcher, several Detroit police officers and detectives, Mosley and hotel staff. Mosley is the only defense witness. 

Hotel employee Erica Drew testified during an April preliminary examination in Detroit's 36th District Court that police were called because Mosley became unruly when staff wouldn't let him up to Room 1002, where his wife was sleeping.

Drew testified that Mosley was barred from the hotel because he wasn't registered and his last name is different from his wife's.

Another hotel employee, Timothy Scott, testified during the preliminary exam that he called 911 on Mosley because of "the way he was acting. He wasn't acting right."

Detroit police officer Edmond Witcher testified that he put Mosley in his squad car and went to Wagner's room to see if he was telling the truth.

Witcher's body-cam video was shown in court. He is seen knocking on Wagner's open hotel door and announcing himself as a police officer several times as he and his partner enter the room.

Wagner is seen lying in bed. She starts giggling when police ask her questions.

"I asked if she'd been drinking," Witcher said. "She continued to giggle."

At one point, someone is heard on the video saying: "She's wasted, dude."

The officer asks Wagner for her date of birth and she laughs again. "I'm old," she says. "Too old."

After the police confirm that Wagner is married to Mosley, the officers let him out of the squad car. He's seen on video yelling: "Hands up, don't shoot. I'm not a threat."

The group goes back up to the 10th floor to Wagner's room. At one point, the video shows Wagner grabbing Witcher's arm. He asks her: "Why are you putting your hands on me?"

Hotel staff tells the officers they want Mosley to leave the hotel, and the cops tell him he has to vacate the premises. When he doesn't leave, the cops handcuff him and lead him toward the hotel elevator.

The body camera video shows Wagner step in front of the elevator door. Witcher tells her to move out of the way, and she doesn't. When he tries to move her, she again grapples with him. Witcher tries to push her off him; she falls to the ground as the officer appears to try to catch her.

Wagner later told reporters she is the victim of a "cover-up" because she claimed hotel staff had destroyed evidence.

"I think it’s all coordinated," she said. "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."