Target 11 investigates police officer charged with felony

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PITTSBURGH - A Pittsburgh police officer charged with insurance fraud almost two years ago lost some of his police powers, but he didn’t lose his job.

As Target 11 Investigator Rick Earle discovered, he’s being paid his full salary while serving probation.

Officer Vernon Gibson works at the warrant office at the City Municipal Court building downtown. He’s been assigned to that office since he was charged with felony insurance fraud.

Target 11 obtained a copy of a letter sent from the Pennsylvania State Police to the Pittsburgh Police Department advising them that Gibson is no longer allowed to access sensitive criminal data because he’s accused of a felony.

The executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board wants to know what Gibson is doing at the warrant office.

“You do not have the essential qualifications for the job. You cannot access information that's necessary to do the job, so you are not qualified to be a police officer at that moment,” said Beth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Review Board.

But police union attorney Bryan Campbell told Target 11 that officers accused of crimes are routinely assigned to the warrant office until the case is closed. Target 11 has learned that agreement is part of the union contract.

Campbell said officers assigned to the warrant office provide clerical help.

In November of 2011, Gibson told investigators he was the victim of a hit and run. He later changed his story and admitted crashing his own car.

Prosecutors agreed to the ARD program, or Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition. Under the terms of the agreement, Gibson received 18 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and a $250 fine.  Once he completes ARD, the charge will be dismissed.

A spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office told Target 11 that Gibson did not receive preferential treatment. 

"His admission to ARD is not unusual for this type of crime,” said spokesman Mike Manko.

But Pittinger believes that police officers should be held to a higher standard, and she doesn’t believe he should be in the warrant office. She believes he should have been suspended until the case is closed.

“When you engage in activity that breeches the public trust in such a significant way, dealing with honesty, how does the public maintain confidence?” said Pittinger.

But Campbell said officers are entitled to due process. 

“I think you have to go through due process because of the number of times charges are dropped or officers are acquainted, and more often than not that's true,” said Campbell.

Gibson received a five-day suspension in August. 

As soon as he successfully completes the ARD program, Gibson will likely be allowed to return to his job at the Zone 1 police station on the North Side. 

Earle reached out to Gibson at both his work and home, but did not receive any comment.