PITTSBURGH — Channel 11 broke the story several weeks ago that former Bosie, Idaho police chief Ryan Lee was Mayor Ed Gainey’s choice to become the next police chief in Pittsburgh. But soon after Channel 11 began digging into Lee’s controversial background, the nomination quickly unraveled.
Channel 11 discovered that Lee had been forced to resign from the job in Boise after multiple reports of low morale in the department and a serious allegation that Lee injured a fellow officer during an impromptu tactical restraint demonstration.
The Mayor brought in Lee and two other finalists, both former Pittsburgh Police officers, Jason Lando and Larry Scirotto. Three separate panels made up of community members, police union members, and members of the Mayor’s staff were assembled to privately interview the three finalists.
All of the panelists had to sign non-disclosure agreements, promising not to discuss the process.
Brandi Fisher of the Alliance for Police Accountability was a member of the community panel.
She said they were not told who they were interviewing until the interviews started so they did not know about Lee’s previous troubles.
Fisher said she had issues with Lee’s background when she found out about it.
“The background was definitely alarming to me. For us as the people who were part of the process, we didn’t have names previously, or anything like that, so we really have been relying on the administration to go through the process,” said Fisher.
After Channel 11 exposed Lee’s controversial past, the Mayor decided to move on to the other two finalists.
Jason Lando, who rose to Commander in Pittsburgh, left to become the Police Chief in Frederick, Maryland, where he is currently employed.
Larry Scirotto rose to the rank of assistant chief in Pittsburgh and then retired in 2018, and moved away from the city. He is also an NCAA Division 1 college basketball referee. He continued to work as a referee.
In 2013, while a Lt. on the force, Scirotto drew the ire of then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who accused Scirotto in a tweet of spending too much time working as a college basketball ref.
Scirotti defended his side job in a phone interview with me then.
“I find it very disheartening that I have to defend the legal actions of my private life that are not illegal or unethical,” said Scirotto.
In late 2021, Scirotto was hired as the chief in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Less than a year into his tenure, he was forced to resign in the wake of a diversity hiring scandal.
Scirotto was accused of using a minority-first approach for hiring and promotions.
He has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city of Fort Lauderdale.
Sources said Mayor Gainey wanted to go with Jason Lando, but he couldn’t convince some members of the community group, so he settled for Scirotto.
That decision first reported by Channel 11 Thursday night caught some who thought Lando was a shoo-in by surprise.
“He’s been an excellent police chief and he has done tremendous work with the community,” said Beth Pittinger, the director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board.
Pittinger also expressed concern that the process of selecting a chief has been shrouded in secrecy. The Mayor did hold a handful of public hearings to hear what neighbors wanted in a police chief, but the process of actually selecting a chief has been secretive.
“We don’t know anything about the process so I think it would helpful if the public knew how this selection was arrived at,” said Pittinger.
Lando sent the following statement Monday morning:
“While watching the news this weekend I saw that Larry Scirotto was selected as Pittsburgh’s next police chief. I have to assume those reports are accurate, but nobody from the City of Pittsburgh ever reached out to me regarding their decision. If this is true and Larry is the new chief, I wish him the very best. The Bureau of Police is filled with dedicated men and women who need a leader that will take them in the right direction and support them in taking exceptional care of the community. I am confident Chief Scirotto will be that leader for them.”
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