Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier has accused the Beaver Countian and several attorneys of being engaged in an orchestrated effort to undermine the criminal justice system. District Attorney Lozier’s accusations were made in open court during what was to be legal arguments on whether a judge should release to the public a Beaver Police dash cam video depicting the August 2016 arrest of James Edward Cicco by Beaver Patrolman Jeffrey Wijnen-Riems.
A group of three concerned citizens from Beaver Borough filed a “Motion to Intervene” last week in the Beaver County District Attorney’s Offices’ case against James Cicco in an attempt to get the dash cam video released to the public. Among the parties to the case are retired long-time Beaver County Neighborhood Legal Services attorney James P. O’Connell, retired school teacher and psychologist Richard F. Williams, and attorney J. Lauson Cashdollar who previously served as Vice President of Beaver Borough Council and currently serves as Solicitor for the Beaver County Prothonotary’s Office.
“I will release no audio recording, no videos, no photographs prior to trial,” District Attorney Lozier told Common Pleas Judge Dale Fouse. “At the conclusion of trial, I will gladly release that video.”
James Edward Cicco is expected to go on trial later this month on 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. Dozens of felony charges that had been filed against Cicco were dismissed by two separate judges following pretrial hearings in the case.
District Attorney Lozier told Judge Fouse that an investigation by the Pennsylvania State Police had cleared Officer Wijnen-Riems of any criminal wrongdoing during the arrest, and that he has been wrongly “portrayed as trying to defend [Officer Wijnen-Riems].”
Lozier then began to describe allegations against those seeking to have the dash cam video released which amounted to a conspiracy to taint the jury pool in Beaver County to undermine the criminal justice system itself.
“Mr. Benyo included screen captures of the video into his brief for the purpose of releasing it to the media,” alleged Lozier. “I believe it was improper […] The media used it to attack the officer […] The media [referring to the Beaver Countian] has been using court records to attack this officer and I believe influence the jury.”
District Attorney Lozier also accused attorney Benyo of engaging in misconduct by filing a copy of the Beaver Police dash cam video as a court exhibit with the Beaver County Clerk of Courts for the purposes of making it available to the Beaver Countian. Benyo had previously insisted he filed the video so it would be part of the official record in case he needed to file an appeal on behalf of his client — Clerk of Courts Judy Enslen has said a legal analysis conducted by her office has shown Benyo’s filing was in accordance with the rules of court.
Lozier then proceeded to accuse attorney Lauson Cashdollar of engaging in misconduct as well by attempting to taint the jury pool.
“Mr. Cashdollar has an axe to grind and the media outlet has an axe to grind against this officer,” said Lozier. “What we are seeing is an ongoing intentional effort by the media outlet, Mr. Cashdollar, and Mr. Benyo.”
District Attorney Lozier said the Beaver Countian’s reporting about the controversy has not been objective and has been designed to “inflame the jury.”
“They want to persecute not prosecute the officer,” said Lozier. During the course of his argument, Lozier pointed out that the Beaver Countian had reported about other individuals who previously filed federal lawsuits against Officer Wijnen-Riems alleging the use of excessive force.
District Attorney Lozier accused the Beaver Countian of promoting its articles on Facebook for the purposes of tainting the jury pool. The Beaver Countian has for years been promoting its articles on the social media outlet.
“I believe we have a pattern of conduct to deliberately attack the credibility of this officer, this department, and my office,” said Lozier.
District Attorney Lozier told Judge Fouse that if he orders the release of the dash cam video showing Beaver Patrolman Jeffrey Wijnen-Riems’ arrest of James Cicco, the prosecution’s case against the defendant could be harmed.
“This article, this attack piece which we expect, would come out a week before trial,” concluded Lozier.
District Attorney David Lozier cited no examples of inaccuracies in the Beaver Countian’s reporting, and submitted no evidence to the court to substantiate any of his accusations of misconduct or conspiracy to taint a jury.
Attorney Lauson Cashdollar began his argument by telling the court that he was disappointed that District Attorney David Lozier would accuse him of being part of orchestrated attempts to taint a jury.
“I must say, I wish you hadn’t done that,” said attorney Lauson Cashdollar, looking back at Lozier. “You are wrong about that… and you are causing your own problems by refusing to release this video.”
Cashdollar said that releasing information about a case to the public — such as the police dash cam video — as the case unfolds is a necessary function of government.
“That is the way we build trust in what we do,” said Cashdollar. “Sometimes that means revealing things that should not have happened.”
Attorney Cashdollar again defended himself against remarks made by the elected District Attorney in open court, telling the judge that he has tremendous respect for law enforcement, having previously served as Solicitor for the Fraternal Order of Police, and that his father was an FBI Agent who served as Chief County Detective after retiring from the Bureau. Cashdollar said he remembers a lesson taught to him by his father, that most police officers are good, but a small number of them are not so good, and he believes the officer involved in the current controversy is among them.
“He has hurt the court, he has hurt other police officers, and he has hurt the District Attorney’s Office,” said Cashdollar.
Attorney Cashdollar argued that the District Attorney similarly had no legal basis for denying Right-to-Know requests for the video.
The Beaver County District Attorney’s Office filed a motion with Judge Harry Knafelc last week seeking to prevent the future jurors from seeing the majority of the dash cam video as well.
Cashdollar said that the court’s “voir dire” process of questioning prospective jurors about pretrial publicity can ensure that the District Attorney’s Office is able to try its remaining case against James Edward Cicco with a fair and impartial jury. He noted that even in a historic case involving the Watergate scandal, the court was able to locate jurors who had heard nothing about the matter.
“The court can handle, the court can surely handle, the issue of having a fair jury,” concluded Cashdollar, who went on to tell the judge that delaying the video’s release until after the trial could further erode the public’s trust in the system.
“This court need not accept that damage to the overall justice system,” concluded Cashdollar.
Attorney Gerald Benyo told the court that his client is taking no position, either for or against, the release of the dash cam video. Benyo told Judge Fouse that he would not be responding in open court to District Attorney Lozier’s allegations about misconduct and conspiracy.
“I will deal with Mr. Lozier’s comments personally with Mr. Lozier,” said attorney Benyo.
Judge Dale Fouse told those in his courtroom that he believes the public would need to see the dash cam video to understand why he decided to dismiss all of the most serious charges filed against James Edward Cicco by Beaver Patrolman Jeffrey Wijnen-Riems. Among the charges dismissed by Judge Fouse included felony fleeing and eluding, resisting arrest, and taunting a police dog.
“I cited that video almost 20 times,” said Judge Fouse. “I relied on it significantly […] Perhaps the most significant decisions in this case were rendered by me relying almost entirely on this video.”
Judge Fouse said if he intends to engage in full disclosure, the public would need to see the video for themselves.
“I will make a decision this week,” concluded Judge Fouse.