Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Q&A: Solicitor Specter Speaks Out

“The investigation was conducted in a fair and thorough fashion.”

–Acting City Solicitor George Specter

Here are some excerpts from my question-and-answer session with Acting City Solicitor George Specter concerning the Dennis Regan investigation.

Q: "Why the decision to talk to the media now about this case?"

A: "I wanted to talk to the media because of the accusations that were made against me in public."

Q: "What accusations?"

A: "The accusation that I attended a meeting on August 16, 2006 at which I heard Dom Costa discuss carrying out Regan's order, or vice versa, Regan ordering him to promote officer Rende to detective. And that's not true. I never heard anything like that. There was an August 16th meeting, but it had nothing to do with that matter."

(A technical problem interrupted the videotaping, and we started again for the camera.)

Q: "Again, why the decision to talk to the media now?"

A: I wanted to talk to the media because there have been some accusations made to media that--in public--about me and about my prior involvement in the Rende matter. Apparently stemming from this meeting on August 16, 2006. That meeting did not relate to the Rende matter; I never heard of the Rende matter prior to that time, and was unaware of it after that meeting ended."

Q: "Did you witness firsthand any evidence that Dennis Regan was pressing Chief Costa to promote an officer who Costa believed was not qualified?"

A: "Not at all."

Q: "Your report to the mayor appears to indirectly acknowledge that you were present for this. You recount that Costa says you were at the meeting. You don't say 'Costa says this, but this isn't true'? "

A: "What happens is, it's very simple. A couple of weeks before the meeting, I receive an e-mail from Chief Costa, asking me to attend a meeting with him and Officer Degler. A week or so after that he sent me an e-mail saying that he had scheduled a meeting at Dennis Regan's office on August 16 with himself, Dennis Regan, Officer Degler, and me. I put it on my calendar and went to the meeting. ...(Editor's Note: Specter details the meeting with Degler.)... After which, Degler got up and left. I followed immediately. I got up and said 'do you need me for anything else', and they said no, and I left."

Q: "Costa's statement puts you in the room interacting with Regan and with him as part of the incident, doesn't it?"

A: "It appears to, yes."

Q: "His statement, he said, places you in the room. He describes her leaving, and then he said over the course of the discussion 'Regan asked why, and George Specter said "Well, contract. They don't have graded detectives because of the contract."' So he actually describes you interacting with Dennis Regan and with him. Is that a lie? "

A: "I have to tell you. He may have said to Dennis Regan something along those lines, but I will tell you absolutely, Bob, I didn't even know what a graded detective was at the time, and I never had occasion to read the police contract. So, I wouldn't have said that."

Q: "So you were not in the room when this alleged activity took place?"

A: "That's right."

Q: "... If you weren't in the room, in your report to the mayor, why didn't you say, 'I'm falsely being represented as being witness to this'? Isn't that in itself important information?"

A: "That was an oversight on my part. In retrospect, do I regret not saying that? Absolutely. But, as far as the discussion about a detective is concerned, I wouldn't have known that. And frankly, if Costa or Regan, if Costa said to Regan as I was standing there, 'I took care of that matter', it would have been a meaningless statement to me. He might as well have said anything. I was leaving."

Q: "But the Costa statement not only has that. The Costa statement goes much further, and describes the entire exchange about 'I want him to be a detective now', places you in the room witnessing that. That's all an extended--misrepresentation? False statement? What, from the former chief?"

A: "I wouldn't want to accuse Dom Costa of making a -- of misrepresenting intentionally, or speaking falsely or anything. I think that my recollection is just very clear. I got up and said, do you need me for anything, and they said 'no'. And that--end of story."

(Later in the interview...)

A: "...the allegation that he (Regan) had sought to pressure Chief Costa into better positions for Officer Rende. On that one, as you correctly noted, 'I said credence has to be given, despite Regan's stout denials, credence has to be given to what actually happened. Costa said 'he told me to do it, and I did it'."

Q: "So then, your next and closing statement is 'the facts speak for themselves.' And in that context, what do those facts say--about Chief Costa's assertions, about Dennis Regan's assertions?"

A: "The fact that Costa did this, and says that he did it at the insistence of Dennis Regan, coupled with the record of transfers during the Costa regime, tell me that something--that there was some interaction between them that led him to move Rende so often in a short period of time."

Q: "So, did your investigation provide, in light of that, quote-- 'no conclusive evidence'--unquote?"

A: "I thought there was substantial evidence, but you still had Dennis Regan saying 'I never said it'."

Q: "So in order for there to be conclusive evidence, there'd have to be an admission on Dennis Regan's part?"

A: "Something like that. to be absolutely conclusive. But you know what's interesting here, Bob? I in a sense came to the same conclusions as Cathy McNeilly did. Recall, she said that she had no absolute proof that Dennis Regan had done these things. But she looked at the big picture. I, on the other hand, said 'let the facts speak for themselves'. There's essentially no difference between those conclusions."

Q: "But the mayor had to act on that. He said 'no conclusive evidence'. Is that an accurate interpretation of the findings that you made to the mayor?"

A: "If you're using the word conclusive, yes it is. But look at the overall result. What you have is, as a result of this investigation and the mayor's action on it: Dennis Regan is no longer employed by the City of Pittsburgh. Cathy McNeilly remains employed. Albeit, she was demoted. That demotion has been vacated by the district court; she is now back as a commander. But if you look at the bigger picture here, and what has actually happened: Regan is gone and she is still here. "

(Later in the interview...)

A: "I would like to say that the investigation was conducted in a fair and thorough fashion. I think that my report to the mayor evidenced that, and I think the mayor saw that in his reading of the report. And I think he acted properly in what he did. You have to remember, these things did not happen on his watch. And here he was, a relatively new, very new mayor, confronted with this issue and these allegations. And you have to look at the end result. So, I think it was a fair investigation and the result has been fair to everyone. "

Q: "Mr. Regan acting as--and signing off as--public safety director to reverse a dismissal of a police officer: that happened while the current administration was power?"

A: "That is correct. He should not have done that."

Q: "Was that within the scope of your investigation? It was an action that he took in police matters?"

A: "It was not made part of the investigation. Quite frankly, by the time we learned about it, he had already done it and the officer in question was back on the job. So that got into the very difficult question of 'do we try to reinstate the original disciplinary action'."

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