Warning – This article contains graphic images.
A Beaver County judge has dismissed all of the remaining felony charges filed against an Industry man last August by the Beaver Borough Police Department, finding no evidence to substantiate charges that James Edward Cicco had resisted arrest by Patrolman Jeffery Wijnen-riems or taunted his police K-9 Czar.
Beaver Patrolman Jeffery Wijnen-riems had alleged that Cicco resisted arrest, assaulted him, grabbed a hand drill, and taunted his K-9 partner during an encounter on August 19th. Eyewitnesses alleged the officer was aggressive and used unnecessary force against a man who they say was clearly trying to surrender. Cicco suffered gruesome injuries during the arrest as a result of Wijnen-riems deploying his police K-9 on the man — police dash cam video of the incident played in court appears to show the dog mauling Cicco while he is handcuffed. An investigation into the incident by the Pennsylvania State Police found no criminal wrongdoing on the part of the officer.
Common Pleas Judge Dale Fouse granted a pretrial motion today filed on behalf of James Cicco, who sought dismissal of charges ahead of his trial scheduled for next month. Among the charges thrown out by Judge Fouse include felony counts of fleeing or eluding the police and taunting a police animal. Judge Fouse also dismissed misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest and driving under the influence.
Judge Fouse summarized events of the night Officer Wijnen-riems pulled over James Cicco following a 44-second, low-speed pursuit, that ended when the suspect stopped after turning into his own driveway:
“The Officer reached into the vehicle cabin and grabbed defendant by the wrist and elbow in a twisting motion, appearing to intend, at that time, to either remove the Defendant from the vehicle or place him in handcuffs. The Officer tugs on the Defendant’s arm but the Defendant does not allow himself to be pulled from the vehicle. Officer Wijnen-Riems then appears to reach for his firearm but decides not to unholster it; rather, he leans into the vehicle and struggles with the Defendant. The Officer unhooks the Defendant’s seatbelt and then, pulling the seatbelt away from the Defendant’s body, walks away from the vehicle returning to his own.”
“The Defendant then begins to exit the Ford Explorer and raised his hands seeming to concede to the Officer’s authority. However, upon seeing Officer Wijen-Riems deploy the K9 Officer, the Defendant returned to the vehicle cab and closed the door. Officer Wijnen-riems approached the Defendant in a hurried fashion and opened the door, grabbing the Defendant with the assistance of the K9 Officer and dragging him to the ground. The K9 Officer and Officer Wijnen-riems dragged the Defendant a short distance at which time Officer Wijnen-riems attempted to disengage the K9 Officer from the Defendant’s right shoulder. Officer Wijnen-riems then took the K9 Officer back toward the police vehicle and returned to the Defendant who was situated on the ground, next to the Ford Explorer.”
“The Officer re-approached, closed the door to the Defendant’s vehicle and reached down placing his handcuffs on the Defendant’s right wrist. Officer Wijnen-riems delivered his kneed to the upper back of the Defendant, who was lying flat facing the ground, and grabbed the Defendant’s left wrist, securing the handcuffs. In what appeared in the Dashboard-Camera footage to be an involuntary movement in response to the application of the handcuffs and the Officer’s knee making contact with the Defendant’s back, the Defendant lifted his foot from the ground toward the K9 Officer and the K9 Officer e-engaged the Defendant. Following this, Officer Wijnen-riems disengaged the K9 Officer from its grip upon the Defendant and secured the K9 in the vehicle.”
Judge Fouse wrote in his analysis that there was no evidence James Cicco intended to resist arrest or taunt a police dog:
“During argument on the Defendant’s motion in this case, the Commonwealth posited that the moment at which the Defendant resisted arrest was when the Officer puts his knee into the Defendant’s back and the Defendant kicked the K9 Officer. The video evidence submitted in this case shows the Defendant laying flat on his stomach when the Officer was attempting to handcuff him; it was at the same time that the Officer delivered his knee to the Defendant’s back, that the Defendant’s foot appears to rise, purportedly in the direction of and striking the K9 Officer. This Court does not find that the Defendant’s ‘kick,’ from a prone position, while being restrained by Officer Wijnen-Riems, created a substantial risk of bodily injury to either Officer Wijnen-Riems or the K9 Officer […]
“The Dashboard-camera video in this case shows that the kick was in direct response to the Officer Wijnen-Riems knee coming into contact with the Defendant’s back. It is the opinion of this Court that the Defendant’s leg movement as displayed on the video was insufficient for the Commonwealth to prove the mens rea [criminal intent] requirement of willfully or maliciously, even assuming that his foot made contact with the K9 Officer.”
The Beaver Countian has previously published a copy of a recorded phone conversation between Officer Wijnen-riems and a Beaver County 911 Dispatcher which occurred shortly after the incident — the two can be heard making fun of injuries sustained by James Cicco as a result of the police K9 being deployed on him.
The dismissal of charges by Judge Fouse are in addition to dozens of other charges that were previously dismissed at a preliminary hearing held in the case last September. Magisterial District Judge Edward Howe dismissed 50 felony counts of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance after the District Attorney’s Office advised the court those charges had been filed as the result of a “clerical error.” District Judge Howe also dismissed a felony count of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer at the time, finding the District Attorney’s Office failed to present any evidence to substantiate the charge.
The remaining charges still pending against James Cicco from the August 19th incident are now limited to summary counts of driving on a suspended license and careless driving, misdemeanor charges of possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia, and misdemeanor fleeing or eluding.
“After hearing Officer Wijnen-riems’ testimony, Magistrate Howe dismissed the most serious charge against my client of aggravated assault against a law enforcement officer. After viewing the [police dash cam] video, Judge Fouse dismissed the remaining felony charges in the case,” said defense attorney Gerald Benyo, who is representing James Cicco. “Mr. Cicco will now go to trial, display the video, and allow the jury to determine if it is proper for him to even be sitting in the courthouse as a criminal defendant based upon the conduct of Officer Wijnen-riems. I look forward to taking this case before a jury.”
District Attorney David Lozier has been resisting for months attempts by the Beaver Countian to obtain a copy of the Beaver Police dash cam video for publication, despite well established law codifying the public’s presumptive right to access court exhibits (see Commonwealth v. Upshur), and recent court rulings about dash cam video as public records (see Pennsylvania State Police v Grove). The Beaver Countian is currently in consultation with attorneys on what actions it may take next on the public’s behalf.