Roethlisberger’s police buddies under scrutiny
PITTSBURGH – Two off-duty Pennsylvania police officers who were working for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the night he was accused of sexual assault in Georgia still face internal investigations that could cost them their full-time jobs.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell punished Roethlisberger even though a prosecutor declined to charge him over the case, saying the league’s players must abide by a higher standard.
In Pennsylvania – and across the country – so must police. That’s why the quarterback’s police buddies still face scrutiny for being present when Roethlisberger was accused of assaulting a 20-year-old college student at a Milledgeville, Ga., nightclub March 5. Internal investigations will look at more than just each officer’s actions related to the alleged assault. They’ll also review questions such as whether either officer provided alcohol to minors, or knew that was happening.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police Code of Ethics says, “‘I will keep my private life unsullied as an example to all,”‘ said Thomas Martinelli, a former Detroit officer-turned-attorney who serves as an expert witness on police misconduct.
“You bring up an example like this and say, ‘Look, this is turning into a potential scandal, a potential ethical conflict. It’s my duty as a law enforcement officer to extricate myself from this scenario.”‘
Witnesses and Roethlisberger’s accuser say a man investigators later identified as Officer Anthony Barravecchio, of suburban Coraopolis, escorted the woman down a hallway to a rest room where she says Roethlisberger forced her to have sex, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s file on the case. The accuser’s friend said state Trooper Ed Joyner refused to intervene – or even make eye contact – when she asked Joyner to help get her friend out of the restroom.
Joyner hasn’t returned calls to a cell phone number he gave to Georgia investigators, or messages left at his barracks and home. Barravecchio’s attorney, Michael Santicola, insists neither officer did anything wrong. He said the officers’ version is more reliable because they were sober, and drinking Red Bull energy drinks, while their accusers were drunk.
The attorney specifically denies Barravecchio led the accuser to the rest room. “At one time, someone asked him to show this girl where the bathroom was and he pointed down the hallway,” Santicola said. “It just flat out didn’t happen.”
The GBI report says Barravecchio told investigators he spent most of his time at the club seated on a barstool by the door to the back hallway and didn’t see or hear anything out of the ordinary.
At one point, Roethlisberger said, “Hey, show this girl where the bathroom is,” and Barravecchio told investigators he opened the door to the back hall and the woman followed him down the hall, giggling. When Barravecchio pointed to the bathroom she sat on a stool next to the bathroom door where Barravecchio said he left her. He said that he didn’t see anyone else go back there.
Roethlisberger’s accuser told investigators she was on the stool when the quarterback walked down the hallway and exposed himself.
“I told him it wasn’t OK, no, we don’t need to do this and I proceeded to get up and try to leave,” she said. “I went to the first door I saw, which happened to be a bathroom.”
According to her statement, Roethlisberger then followed her into the bathroom, shut the door, and had sex with her over her objections.
Coraopolis solicitor Richard Start said he’s waiting for a copy of the 500-plus page GBI report. He expects he’ll take a week to review it before he recommending to the mayor and borough council whether Barravecchio should be disciplined, fired or cleared.
Start wouldn’t comment on media accounts of what the GBI report said about Barravecchio.
“I will say that the Borough Code in Pennsylvania holds policemen to a higher standard, both on duty and off duty,” Start said. “Now, where that higher standard meets the conduct described, I think I have to read the report to determine that.”
Pennsylvania State Police troopers must abide by a policy governing “supplemental employment” that applies to all state employees. They must get prior approval for side jobs, whether they are paid a wage or, in Joyner’s case, receive other “consideration” like paid vacations.
Trooper Joyner got permission to work as Roethlisberger’s assistant and chauffeur in 2005, but that was rescinded last week. Without specifying how, the state police found Joyner “demeaned” the agency and went outside the scope of his permitted side job with Roethlisberger that night.
A state police internal investigation is still under way, and could result in anything from no further penalty to firing. It must wrap up by mid-August because of a 120-day time limit on such probes, said Lt. Col. John Brown, the state police’s Deputy Commissioner of Administration and Professional Responsibility.
Roethlisberger’s accuser and friends have repeatedly referred to Joyner and Barravecchio as “bodyguards.” Santicola denies that was part of their job description, though he said that perception could be fueled by both being large, muscular men.
The GBI file also shows Joyner told investigators he paid for some drinks consumed by Roethlisberger’s party, but left it up to the nightclub’s bouncers to determine if the women were 21, the legal drinking age in Georgia.
Associated Press Writer Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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