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Man expected to testify about alleged excessive force

By David Hunt
TRIBUNE-REVIEW - April 7, 2005 - A Fayette County man accused of attacking a police officer is expected to testify this morning that the officer -- now suspended on unrelated assault charges -- used unnecessary force in making the arrest.

Defense witnesses testifying during yesterday's trial for Gary L. Metts said the police version of what happened during Fairchance Community Days last July was untrue and that Fairchance Officer Kenneth E. Bittinger III manhandled Metts while another man struck Metts with a wrench.

"He was macing him right in his eyes," said April Metts, Gary Metts' wife. "He placed him in the vehicle and he was hollering for me. He said he couldn't breathe."

Metts, 25, of Smithfield, is charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, inciting a riot and disobeying a police order.

According to an arrest affidavit, Metts shoved Bittinger as police were taking his cousin and two other youths into custody for playing with fireworks at the event. The affidavit states Metts told Bittinger that his cousin wasn't going anywhere.

Bittinger wrote in the affidavit that he pepper-sprayed Metts after Metts closed his fists "in an aggressive stance." The affidavit states Metts punched Bittinger in the back of the head at least five times during an ensuing struggle.

Witness Ralph Vance, of Smithfield, said Bittinger wasn't attacked, but had pepper-sprayed Metts once before slamming him on a police vehicle and spraying him again. While pinned, Metts was hit in the legs with a large wrench wielded by a civilian in the crowd, Vance said.

Vance said Metts was trying to comfort his cousin, not prevent police business.

Metts is expected to tell his side of the story this morning when the trial resumes in Fayette County court, his wife said.

For Bittinger, the allegations of unnecessary force come at a time when he is facing assault charges after an off-duty bar fight in Uniontown. Police say Bittinger had beaten 27-year-old Jason Mitchell after a 15-year-old conflict resurfaced between the two men outside of Darby's Pub in the Fayette County seat. Mitchell's face required reconstructive surgery.

Fairchance officials have suspended Bittinger indefinitely because of the charges.

Throughout his career, Bittinger has been cleared of wrongdoing in several controversial incidents. One of the most recent episodes occurred when he ran over a man he was trying to arrest.

David Hunt can be reached at dhunt@tribweb.com or 724-425-2338.

 

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