The Traffic StopAround 8:20 p.m. on March 8th, 2010, police received a 9-1-1 call regarding a car that had failed to stop after a minor traffic collision. The accident resulted in no injuries and no damage, but one of the drivers did not stop to exchange information. Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) dispatched troopers to investigate this alleged hit-and-run.
A car driven by Robert Leone, 31 at the time, matched the basic description of the car in question. Mr. Leone was driving just across the Pennsylvania border from his home in Vestal, NY. He had just finished star gazing at the Kopernick Observatory and Science Center and decided to go for a ride in the country while listening to his favorite music. He had consumed no alcohol or illegal substances, but it seems that his decision-making abilities may have been affected by his legally-prescribed medication used to treat his bipolar disorder.
PSP attempted to pull over Mr. Leone, who was traveling at a speed significantly UNDER the posted speed limit — 10 to 30 mph under. Leone stated at first he did not think the trooper was trying to stop him as he believed that he had done nothing wrong prior to the encounter. Police dash-cam video clearly showed Mr. Leone driving very slowly and in a very controlled manner. The only vehicles ever seen crossing the center line or driving erratically were the state police cars that were involved in this low speed following — contrary to sworn statements later given by the troopers.
The five marked cruisers following Mr. Leone could have easily boxed in Mr. Leone at low speed and caused him to stop. Instead, the troopers deployed stop-sticks and rammed his vehicle. A “PIT maneuver” was used to smash Leone into a rock wall, while still at low speed.
Once his car was immobilized, the senior trooper on scene, Corporal Roger Stipcak, stood on top of Mr. Leone’s hood and ordered him out of his car while aiming a taser at him. Mr. Leone COULD NOT comply with the trooper’s order because a state police car was intentionally blocking Leone’s driver-side door.
Mr. Leone was then tasered through his open sunroof and forcibly dragged to the ground through the passenger-side door and beaten by fellow troopers. The senior trooper who was standing on the hood of Leone’s car was then seen jumping directly onto Leone’s back from the hood of the car.
“You’ve got a long f***ing night ahead,” the officer menaced. “Do ya hear me?? Do ya f***ing hear me?!”
This was but the first threat of many Mr. Leone was going to receive over the next 11 hours. It was also the mildest. At no time was Leone videoed resisting or attempting to strike the officers.
After his first beating he was handcuffed and questioned. At that point Leone was arrested and placed in the back of a patrol car. Without advising Mr. Leone of his constitutional rights he was questioned a second time and responded with respectful answers of “yes sir,” and “no sir.”
During the questioning, the trooper accused Leone of intentionally spitting in the trooper’s face and used that alleged behavior as a reason to beat Mr. Leone — who was still handcuffed. The trooper then hog-tied the victim.
“Who do you think you’re messing with?” one officer challenged. “We’re the Pennsylvania State Police… it’s not just some chumps.”
After analyzing the audio portion of the dash-cam it appears that the trooper fabricated the spitting incident in order to justify the beating, even though spitting does not allow an officer to beat a prisoner.
Watch as author Larry Hohol provides a play-by-play of the traffic stop:
Beaten Again in the HospitalRobert Leone was still hog-tied when he was brought into the Towanda Hospital; a fact documented in his medical records. Mr. Leone attempted to quietly tell the attending nurse what happened to him and begged her for help.
Unfortunately for him, one of the troopers overheard his plea. The exam room was ordered cleared of all medical personnel and a third round of beatings and taserings occurred while Mr. Leone was handcuffed to his gurney.
Police alleged that Leone “reached” at an officer — all the justification they needed for beating him with batons and using tasers multiple times.
The trooper later admitted at Leone’s trial that he was never hit by the defendant. But that did not stop Mr. Leone from being found guilty of assault for what took place in that room.
Mr Leone was discharged from the Towanda General Hospital in worse condition than he had arrived in.
Beaten Again at Police BarracksAfter his treatment at the hospital, Mr. Leone was taken to the PSP Barracks Towanda for processing. While at the barracks, an arraignment was set up with an on-call judge who was located remotely and used a video-feed to connect with the police.
Mr. Leone was instructed not to look into the video camera during this arraignment and to only answer questions that he was asked. As soon as the video link was established, Mr. Leone looked directly into the camera and begged the judge for help. The trooper immediately disconnected the video link, claiming that a malfunction had occurred. With no cameras recording, Mr. Leone was severely beaten for a third time.
Beaten Again During TransportWhile at the barracks, Leone stated that troopers told him that they could make it look like he committed suicide while in custody or they could throw him off of a bridge and state that somehow he got the rear door of the patrol car open and then jumped off of the bridge himself.
The prisoner was so sure the troopers were going to kill him that night, he tried to shuffle away when he was being escorted to the patrol car for transportation to the county jail, even though he was handcuffed and his feet were shackled.
His pathetic escape attempt gave police an opportunity to beat him once again, and this time douse him with pepper spray. His injuries were so severe at that point that he was unconscious when he was delivered to the hospital for his second evaluation.
According to the hospital report, all of the injuries on Mr. Leone’s body were on his back and none were frontal, indicating that his injuries were not caused while being subdued because of any aggressive behavior. Apparently, the hospital staff themselves were so fearful of these troopers that they released Mr. Leone back into police custody only 26 minutes later — without treatment and while Mr. Leone was still semi-conscious. Mr Leone’s vital signs at this point showed him to be in serious physical distress.
Arrival in JailMr. Leone was transported via patrol car in a semi-conscious state to the Bradford County Correctional Facility. He was received in such poor condition that the jail called their on-call staff physician to the jail to evaluate Mr. Leone.
“They put him on the phone and he starts screaming that he has been beaten within an inch of his life,” Robert’s mother, Joan Leone told WBNG. “They tried to kill him through the night. He has been threatened that they are going to kill him and make it look like a suicide or an accident.”
Numerous pictures of Leone’s injuries were taken by the prison staff in order to defend the prison — should it later be accused of mishandling the already-ravaged prisoner. (Subsequently, when the photographs were requested, the prison claimed that these pictures do not exist.)
A prison guard [name withheld] who befriended Leone told him that the jail administrators were lying because the guard saw the pictures for himself. The picture featured in this article is a copy of the actual booking photo taken by the prison.
Mr. Leone laid in a jail cell for days without proper treatment and probably should have died from his injuries. The prison would not release any information to Mr. Leone’s family about his condition for over 5 days. His family was not allowed to speak to him in person or on the phone nor would the prison allow any other visitors or legal counsel to visit him.
Since Robert Leone could not pay his outrageous $250,000.00 bail, he remained incarcerated for six months until his trial. While he languished in jail, he was denied any additional medical treatment — particularly for his head injuries — even though he had excellent private heath insurance to pay for it if necessary.
“The corruption in PA is so widespread that they’re going to keep him in for four years. Because they have no intention of letting him out because he’s going to be speaking about what’s happened to him,” Joan Leone said.
Railroaded With ChargesRobert Leone’s traumatic physical experience was followed by being charged with twenty-four (24) separate crimes: aggravated assault; driving while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance; escape; simple assault; reckless endangering another person; resisting arrest; fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer; disorderly conduct; failure to stop at the scene of an accident; harassment; failure to provide the proper information following an accident; and failure to notify the authorities after an accident had occurred.
To go with his black eye and brutal beating, Mr. Leone was literally charged with breaking a trooper’s fist with his face — “aggravated assault” on a police officer. The 2 dozen charges included four serious felonies for which he could feasibly be spending the rest of his natural life in prison.
It appears that the cover-up of Leone’s beatings became so important that the Bradford County District Attorney personally took up the task of prosecuting the case. Despite having dash-cam video evidence in his possession — the same dash-cam video of which I made a documentary — DA Daniel Barrett attempted to prosecute all 24 counts against Robert Leone.
“I’m sorry if the fella got a black eye or if he got scraped up. His picture look pretty pathetic. But he was the one that brought this on and continued it,” Barrett said to WETM TV.
All district attorneys have two basic requirements — not options — when fulfilling their Oaths of Office. One is to prosecute the guilty, and the other is to protect the innocent. In this case DA Daniel Barrett did neither. At the very least the dash-cam video contradicted sworn statements made by troopers and in many instances proved Mr. Leone’s innocence. Instead of dropping the charges, the Bradford County District Attorney knowingly prosecuted a man that he knew was innocent of everything except his failure to stop (Leone is guilty of this for sure).
Leone’s TrialRobert Leone’s trial began on August 31, 2010.
District Attorney Barrett claimed at trial that Mr. Leone was a drug-addled maniac that endangered the general public because of a substance abuse problem.
But that was not the case. Mr. Leone’s lab results showed that he had a 0.00 BAC and the only drug in his system was a prescribed medication for his diagnosed bipolar disorder. For some reason, Leone’s physician had assigned him a very high dosage. Nonetheless, the DA waved an empty prescription bottle before the jury and told them it was evidence that Mr. Leone had taken a significant number of pills at once.
At another point in the trial, the DA introduced as evidence part of an internal investigation that was conducted by the Pennsylvania State Police Office of Integrity and Professional Standards. The DA only showed part of the report to the jury which consisted of the troopers’ own sworn statements. He then asked one of the troopers if they were punished or reprimanded in any way following their conduct in this case. The trooper told the DA and the jury that he and his colleges were cleared of any wrongdoing (the investigation was conducted by a fellow trooper from the same barracks).
When the Public Defender demanded a copy of the complete report, her demand was denied by Bradford County President Judge Jeffrey Smith with no explanation. To this day, the Leone family and every outsider has been denied access to a copy of the full report.
Sources indicated to me that the nurse who witnessed the the round of beatings inside the Towanda Hospital was not brought into the trial to testify out of extreme fear for her safety. This statement was made by Mr. Leone’s public defender to Leone’s parents. The nurse was not afraid of Mr. Leone.
When the prosecution rested it’s case, Mr. Leone’s court-appointed public defender had an opportunity to rip the DA and the arresting troopers to shreds — especially for their outright and provable misstatement of facts. An exposure of these details could have proved helpful to Leone’s fate. Instead of a rebuttal, the public defender offered three (apparently) magic words when it was time for her to defend her client: “The defense rests.”
Despite a non-existent defense effort, Leone was found guilty by the jury of only four of the two dozen charges. They were: hit-and-run, attempting to flee from officers, resisting arrest, and one count of simple assault. Most importantly, he was found not guilty all four of the felonies.
It appears that the trial judge did not like the decision the jury had rendered, and rather than sentencing Mr. Leone to time served, Leone as sentenced to 2.5 to 4 years in prison.
With a sentence this severe, it is customary for an inmate to serve his time in a state facility. Judge Jeffrey Smith instead ordered Mr. Leone to be held in Bradford County. An appeal by the hapless public defender was filed on behalf of Mr. Leone and subsequently rubber stamped “denied” by the Superior Court.
Parole DeniedThe warden of the Bradford County Correctional Facility commented to Mr. Leone’s parents that if all of the prisoners in his facility acted like Mr. Leone, he wouldn’t need any guards. Despite his apparent good behavior in the eyes of the warden, Mr. Leone had been denied release from prison by the parole board multiple times.
The first parole denial was because, as they stated, that Mr. Leone did not finish taking a drug and alcohol abuse class while incarcerated. This was a dubious claim because Mr. Leone had not been convicted of any substance-related crime, and his blood was proven to be free of alcohol and illegal drugs.
The second parole denial was because the board “lost the paperwork.” This could have been part of a conscious effort to keep Mr. Leone incarcerated until the expiration on a statute of limitations that would have allowed him to file a federal lawsuit against the officers involved.
Fortunately, we beat this date by 4 days and have filed a federal lawsuit in the Middle District of Penna.
No AccountabilityThe Pennsylvania State Police officially cleared its own troopers of any and all wrongdoing regarding the entire handling of the Robert Leone case from start-to-finish. Corporal Roger Stipcak and all of the other four participating troopers kept their jobs and faced no legal repercussions.
What might have been turned into major scandal in the Pennsylvania State Police and Bradford County was completely swept under the rug.
Bullies with Badges and their Support NetworkIt is difficult for the average United States citizen to wrap his or her mind around the concept of widespread police brutality and judicial culpability. We are taught at an early age that the police are good and they are here to protect us from evil. We are never taught that occasionally some police officers are in-fact evil themselves.
As a society, and in general terms, it is repetitively hammered into our psyche that if a person is arrested, he must have committed a crime. The public perception also wrongly assumes that if a person is beaten by the police, he probably deserved that beating. Only a minority questions that paradigm, and it is often reinforced with media reports biased toward the police.
In the months following the Towanda traffic stop, Robert Leone was “convicted” in the eyes of the public and media long before his sentence fell on him. It began when the state police reported that they had arrested Mr. Leone after he was involved in a hit-and-run accident and a lengthy “car chase” that ended with Leone “fighting with officers,” thus requiring him to be “forcibly subdued.” The local media regurgitated exactly what the troopers fed them as if it were factual (See more: Man Charged With Assaulting State Troopers | The Daily Review). The District Attorney for Bradford County helped to demonize Mr. Leone by spreading more erroneous info (See more: WETM News).
Reading the official press release and then watching the county DA justify the troopers’ actions would likely satisfy most law-abiding citizens in the belief that their police officers were acting righteously on the streets. However, the actual dash-cam footage — released 2 years after the incident — told us another story.
If this dash-cam video did not exist Mr. Leone would probably be spending most of his adult life in prison. Even with this evidence I cannot get the FBI, U.S. Attorney General, or the DOJ to open a criminal or civil rights investigation. I believe there has been so much misconduct by so many players in this case that the Feds simply do not want to open what appears to be a huge can of worms. I am talking specifically about seven police officers, the District Attorney, the Pennsylvania State Police Office of Integrity and Professional Standards, the trial judge, the Superior Court, the prison, and last but not least, Mr. Leone’s Public Defender.
How could so many safeguards fail and fail with such magnificence? The ONLY safeguard that almost got it right was Mr. Leone’s trial jury. Leone was found guilty on only 4 of 24 counts and zero of them were felonies. Although Mr. Leone was charged with breaking a trooper’s fist with his face, he was found not guilty of that crime.
Since Mr. Leone’s trial, I was told by one of the jurors through a third party that the even the jury was intimidated by the troopers and the DA in this case. So much so, that they felt they had to give them something or fear for their own well being.
We as Americans are willing to go to foreign lands and spill our own blood in the defense of freedom (both ours as well as someone else’s), yet here at home our freedoms are being directly attacked on a daily basis by the very agencies that are in place to assure us things like this never happen. Not only are injustices happening, they are happening on a large scale. I directly blame the chain of command as much as I blame the individual offending officers. In most instances not only does the chain of command attempt to cover-up and justify misconduct, but they actively chastise any officer who might step forward in an attempt to right a wrong. In addition, I blame the Judicial Conduct board as they directly oversee the courts, and I blame the Bar Association as most of the players here (except for the police) are attorneys including the elected officials that should be intervening.
Mr. Leone will soon have his day in federal court. Out of sheer coincidence, the federal judge that was assigned to hear his case is the very federal judge I wrote about in my book about judicial corruption in Pennsylvania. I have no confidence this judge will act appropriately.
The big question that we should all be asking ourselves is, “How do we fix all of this”?
Former Police Officer / Author
Contact info: LarryHohol@live.com www.WorseThanRodneyKing.com