A Beaver County Judge has ruled the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office can not revoke the immunity from prosecution it granted to a Sheriff’s Deputy who repeatedly lied to the Pennsylvania State Police and then allegedly provided false testimony while under oath.
Judge Harry Knafelc ruled that the Attorney General’s Office does not have the authority to revoke the immunity from prosecution it provided to Lieutenant Deputy Thomas Ochs in exchange for his truthful testimony against Sheriff George David.
Deputy Ochs originally lied to the Pennsylvania State Police back on April 16th, 2012 when he told them Sheriff David did not lose control of his temper or pull his gun during a meeting held with the Beaver Countian. After a year long investigation by a State-Wide Investigating Grand Jury, Ochs eventually admitted to authorities that Sheriff David had indeed brandished his service revolver. Ochs told the State Police he initially lied to them because he was afraid of losing his job — he was subsequently granted immunity by the Attorney General’s Office in exchange for his truthful testimony about the incident.
But the AG’s Office contends that Deputy Ochs violated his immunity agreement in February 2014, when he allegedly gave false testimony during a pretrial hearing held in George David’s case in yet another attempt to help protect the Sheriff. The Attorney General’s Office revoked Thomas Ochs’ immunity as a result, and charged him with providing false statements to police and lying under oath.
Thomas Ochs was not called as a witness during Sheriff George David’s trial partly because he notified the court of his intention to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination as he no longer had immunity. David was subsequently acquitted of all charges.
A trial for Ochs was scheduled to take place this month. But in an order issued last week as a result of a motion by Ochs’ defense attorneys, Judge Knafelc ruled that the Attorney General’s Office did not have the authority to revoke the immunity it provided to the deputy, even if the deputy did violate the terms of the agreement by lying under oath. Judge Knafelc also denied a motion by the Attorney General’s Office to have the matter decided by the Supervising Judge of the State-Wide Investigating Grand Jury, who had originally approved Ochs’ grant of immunity.
“The Commonwealth’s purported withdrawal of immunity is invalid,” wrote Judge Knafelc in his lengthy 48 page opinion and order. “The Commonwealth’s request that this Court adjudge the Defendant’s immunity forfeited on the basis of failure to comply with the immunity agreement is DENIED.”
Judge Knafelc’s ruling precludes prosecutors from using any of Ochs’ testimony, or other evidence obtained as a result of his testimony, against him in court.
Judge Harry Knafelc’s order also notified the Attorney General’s Office it may now request a hearing in order to establish by “clear and convincing evidence” whether it can still proceed with the prosecution of Lieutenant Deputy Ochs in light of his ruling.