Jury deliberates in Pittsburgh-area official's trial over police confrontation

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Wayne County jury heard two versions Tuesday of what happened in the 10th-floor corridor of the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel during a March 6 altercation between a Detroit police officer and a Pittsburgh-area elected official.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner on the witness stand

Chelsa Wagner's attorney said she was the victim of overzealous cops who barged into her hotel room and violated her civil rights before they "slammed her to the ground."

The assistant prosecutor insisted Wagner obstructed police officers and acted like an entitled politician who "doesn't think the rules apply to her" and who "pulled the 'do-you-know-who-I-am?' card" when she told the cops she was the highest-ranking elected official in her county.

Jurors now must decide which version is the truth.

Testimony wrapped up Tuesday, and the jury began deliberations in the trial of Wagner, the Allegheny County controller charged with disturbing the peace and resisting and obstructing police officers.

The jurors deliberated for about an hour before breaking for the day. They're scheduled to continue deliberating Wednesday.

The resisting and obstructing charge is a felony carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison; the disorderly conduct charge is a misdemeanor. 

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

Wagner is accused of interfering with Detroit police officers as they prepared to remove her husband, Khari Mosley, from the hotel, after staff said he was creating a disturbance. The couple were in Detroit for a concert.

Wagner took the witness stand Tuesday after prosecutors called six witnesses — four hotel employees and two Detroit cops — during three days of testimony.

On the night of the incident, hotel staff dialed 911 to report Mosley was being disruptive. When officers arrived, they put Mosley into a squad car before going to Wagner's room to verify Mosley's claim that he was a guest, despite his name not being on the hotel registry.

Wagner testified she felt "powerless" and "terrified" when Detroit police officers Edmond Witcher and Jonathan Glowacki entered her hotel room while she was in bed.

The officers' body-camera video showed the door to Room 1002 was ajar. They announced their presence before entering the room.

After the 42-year-old Wagner giggled repeatedly and gave her age as 21, one of the officers is heard on the video saying, "She's wasted."

Wagner testified Tuesday she wasn't drunk. 

"I was asleep," she said, adding she didn't recall talking to the officers when they first entered her room.

During cross-examination, assistant prosecutor Erika Tursar asked Wagner how, if she was asleep, she was able to answer the officers' questions about whether her husband was a hotel guest.

"I remember dreams," Wagner said.

Tursar told her: "You're never going to admit to these people that you were drunk."

"I was not drunk," Wagner said.

Tursar also asked Wagner why she left her hotel door open. "You've never been to Detroit? You're trying to tell me you'd intentionally leave your door open ... when just anybody could walk in?"

"I felt safe, yes," Wagner said.

Prosecutors say Wagner obstructed 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 have used the officers' body-camera video to bolster their arguments. 

During his closing argument, Longstreet said the officers were overaggressive, and that they later tried to justify their actions.

"The most egregious part of this case is the body-slam," Longstreet said. "You see her in the video move aside, but their justification for slamming her into the ground: She didn’t move far enough. She didn’t move fast enough.

"It sounds more like Archie Bunker than police officers," Longstreet said.

Tursar, during her closing argument, said police did everything they could to accommodate Wagner.

"You saw the (video) clips," she said. "(Wagner is) trying to put her hands on (Witcher) over and over and over again. There are four separate encounters. (The police were) so patient and so kind ... until they couldn't do it any more."

Tursar said Wagner "wanted special favors" by telling the cops she was the highest-ranking official in her county.

"Just because you’re the highest ranking official and you think you’re important, you don’t get to pull that card," Tursar said. "Rules still apply to you.”

Before the jury began deliberations, Tursar told them there doesn't need to be an element of violence in order to render a guilty verdict on the obstruction charge.

"There’s a definition of obstruction: Use or threatened use of physical interference," she said. "You have that when you slap someone’s hand away. We have the video of what she did."


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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN