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Attorneys argue over video in Pittsburgh-area official's Detroit trial

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Attorneys spent several hours Monday wrangling over a few seconds of video in the trial of a Pittsburgh-area official accused of obstructing Detroit police officers.

In a hearing marked by multiple arguments, objections and Wayne Circuit Judge Dalton Roberson repeatedly chiding both defense attorneys and prosecutors, two Detroit police officers testified about the events of March 6, when they responded to a disturbance call at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel.

The central issue: What happened outside the hotel room 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 hotel. The couple were in Detroit for a concert.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, with co-counsel Kevin Mincey, left, and Charles Longstreet II on Nov. 12. Monday marks the second day of Wagner's trial on two counts of allegedly resisting and obstructing police officers at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel in March.

Prosecutors say Wagner obstructed Officer Edmond Witcher, barring his path and grappling with him as he tried to escort Mosley onto the elevator. Wagner's attorneys say she stepped aside to let the cops onto the elevator, and that the cop grabbed Wagner.

Both sides used the officers' body-camera video to bolster their arguments, although Roberson admonished the prosecution and defense over various aspects of the video, and denied the defense's request to show the jury the video in slow motion.

Hotel staff testified earlier in the trial that they called police after Mosley became irate when employees told him they couldn't let him into his room because his name wasn't on the registry.

Witcher and partner Jonathan Glowacki testified Monday that when they arrived at the hotel, Mosley was combative and that when they went to Wagner's room later, she also was confrontational.

"When we initially got there we observed a gentlemen out there who appeared to be combative with a security guard," Witcher said. "(Mosely) was in the security guard’s face, being loud and disruptive.”

Witcher said he had to separate the two. “He told me his wife was in the hotel, possibly room 1002 ... he was disorderly at the time. I could’ve taken him into custody."

The officer told Mosley to wait in his squad car while he and his partner went to Wagner's room to verify his story.

“The door was ajar," he said. "I was concerned if she was OK at the time. We knocked on the door, announced ourselves as police officers."

Body-cam video shows the officers entering the room when nobody responded to their questions. Wagner is shown in bed, under the covers. When the officers question her, she starts giggling.

“There was a strong odor of alcohol," Witcher said. "When I asked her age, she told me she was old. She kept giggling. At that point, I told her ‘Quit playing games; how old are you?’ She told me she was 21.”

Wagner, who is 42, wasn't drunk, said her attorney Charles Longstreet; he said she was asleep.

The video shows the incident escalating. At one point, the officers went back outside, removed Mosley from the squad car, and brought him back up to Wagner's room on the 10th floor.

As the group walked to the room, the video shows him cussing at the officers, complaining about them violating his civil rights, and yelling "Hands up, don't shoot."

The video also shows Mosley telling the officers: "Detroit is bull____. What the ____ is going on here in Michigan?"

The group makes it to the room and following a brief discussion, the officers tell Mosley to go inside.

"We were trying to get Mr. Mosley into the room so that could be the end of it, and we could go along on our merry way," Glowacki said.

The video shows Mosley going back into the room and closing the door. The cops start to walk away, but they testified they returned to the room after hearing a loud noise.

The officers knocked on the door, and when Wagner went into the hallway, she and Witcher scuffled. Her attorneys say the officer grabbed her first; both officers say she initiated the contact.

"She grabbed me on my arm," Witcher said. "I told her keep her hands to herself; why is she touching me? She began screaming, arguing ... she said she was the highest official in her county. I told her, 'Ma'am, you're in Michigan right now.'

"I told her she would be locked up if she kept putting her hands on me," Witcher said. He then handcuffed Mosley and started walking toward the elevator, telling him his wife was lucky. 

"I'm being nice because I don't like people putting their hands on me," the cop told Mosley.

As they approached the elevator, Wagner is seen on video standing in front of the doors.

"She got in front of the elevator and blocked me," Witcher said. "As I attempted to go past her, she grabbed me again. I pushed her off me ... and she falls to the ground. She was grabbing onto my ... arm area. I was pinned up on the wall. I pushed her hand off me.

"I tried to catch her from falling," he said. "Then, I told her she was under arrest for assaulting me. She was resisting. Again, she told me she's the highest effing elected official in her county."

Wagner's defense attorneys showed still images from the videos showing Wagner moved from her initial spot in front of the elevator doors.

"At this point, she’s no longer in the center of the elevator," Longstreet said. "She’s moved to the left.”

Glowacki replied: "She’s moved ever so slightly.”

Witcher is heard on the video asking Wagner: "Could you move out of the way, please ma’am?"

"I’m with my husband," she said. Then, the video shows a scuffle, and Wagner yelling, "you will not touch me. You will not touch me."

"You put your hands on me," Witcher says. "Now, you've got to go. You're going to jail."

Wagner is handcuffed and led away. Glowacki testified she was abusive as she sat in the backseat of the squad car on the way to the Detroit Detention Center.

"She said a whole lot in the back of the vehicle," Glowacki said. "She said, '(These are the) last days you guys are gong to be police officers; you have acquired an opponent you don’t want.'

"She called my partner a scoundrel; told him to apologize to me for me having to work with him. She wished ill will on my family as well as his family," Glowacki said.

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

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. Wagner's attorneys are not allowed to mention his acquittal during her trial.

Wagner's lawyers also are not allowed to mount a defense that she was defending her husband against an illegal arrest.

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.

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN