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School police fail to appear in court for bus camera violations

PITTSBURGH — 11 Investigates is digging for answers after some people who got school bus camera tickets showed up to court to fight them, only to find school police officers weren’t there.

There are only eight school police officers currently on the job and two of them have to appear in court to present the school bus camera video to a judge, taking them away from the schools they’re supposed to protect.  That will soon change as a PennDOT hearing officer takes over the cases, but some people still waiting for their money back after winning in court say the damage has been done.

We went to a local magistrate’s court hearings on a snowy, icy, bitter cold day in January. Nearly a dozen people were on the docket to fight their $300 BusPatrol tickets. 11 Investigates has learned the school district, school police and the bus camera company all get a cut of each citation, but Pittsburgh Public redacted their financial agreement with BusPatrol when we filed a ‘Right to Know Request.’

Jeff Oravetz’s ticket was dismissed, but not because he wasn’t at fault. The bus camera video in his case was never even shown to the judge because the school police were a no-show.

“I think something is inherently wrong when you have two entities sharing in the revenue and they’re the ones actually prosecuting you as well,” Oravetz tells 11 Investigates.  “If it’s good enough for the citizens to show up for their court appearance, I think the prosecution should show up as well. They don’t get a pass for that.”

The judge told Channel 11 that when he called to ask where they were, the school police officers said it was a snow day for Pittsburgh Public. The judge said he made it clear that there are no snow days for the police.

This afternoon a school spokeswoman told 11 Investigates a school police officer called the judge that snowy day to request a new hearing date due to illness, but that request was denied.

Brian Mack is a taxicab driver. He lost his wages for the day just to fight the two tickets he got back-to-back. It cost him $220 just to show up in court.

“That was every nickel that I made that day,” Mack tells 11 Investigates.

Mack said in both cases, the stop arm came out after he was almost completely past the bus.  His tickets were also dismissed.

“Not saying anything, not doing anything - just throwing it out the window as if it meant nothing,” Mack said. “It meant something to you to get my money!”

We asked Pittsburgh Public Schools why their officers didn’t show at a news conference two weeks ago.

“They got their cases dismissed, I don’t know what the complaint is,” Mike McNamara, the Chief Operations Officer for PPS told 11 Investigates.

We told McNamara that court costs are expensive. Nearly $100 or more just to appear in front of a magistrate. Some folks haven’t gotten their money back yet.

“They’ll get that money back,” McNamara added.

We asked how many people have been reimbursed, but the district didn’t have that number for us.

“I hope I get my money, or I’ll be back in front of a judge,” Oravetz said.

“I better get that back!” Mack added.

BusPatrol says it will work with local law enforcement to mail back reimbursements. The magistrate says the court costs should be refunded within 30 days.

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