Friday, May 08, 2009

Officer Eric Piotrowski Arrested for Falsely Claiming He Earned a Silver Star

A Cal Expo police officer was arrested by the FBI Friday on charges of falsely claiming he earned a Silver Star for gallantry in combat 18 years ago during Operation Desert Storm and then lying to FBI agents when confronted eight weeks ago.

Eric Gene Piotrowski, who is charged under the so-called Stolen Valor Act, made an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dale A. Drozd, who ordered him released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.

Piotrowski, 41, bought the medal and certificate via the Internet in 2007, and created a citation on a personal computer, according to a sworn FBI affidavit in support of a criminal complaint.

The Marine veteran told family and friends he received the medal and certificate in the mail after requesting a copy of his military records, FBI Special Agent Mark Burgeson wrote in the affidavit.

Without his knowledge, Piotrowski's family arranged for California Department of Veterans Affairs Undersecretary Roger Brautigan to come to his Elk Grove home on an evening in 2007 and formally present the medal to him, according to the affidavit and JP Tremblay, deputy secretary of the department.

News of the presentation later appeared on the cover of the department's newsletter, and skeptical veterans urged the FBI to investigate.

Created in 1932, the Silver Star is the nation's third highest military decoration. Only the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross are higher.

"It's the first time we've had anything like this happen," said Tremblay, speaking for the Veterans Affairs Department. "It insults those who really did earn these citations, and it's disheartening to all veterans and those of us who work with them."

The citation cites Piotrowski for "conspicuous gallantry" while leading his platoon, navigating for the battalion and controlling "supporting arms well forward of the lead elements throughout Operation Desert Storm." It says "he exposed himself to direct enemy fire" while providing cover for a team maneuvering to destroy an Iraqi tank.

"By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, Cpl. Piotrowski reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service," the citation concludes.

Piotrowski forged the signature of Secretary of the Navy Henry L. Garrett III on it, according to the affidavit.

The Veterans Affairs newsletter reported that Brautigan "joined an excited and proud family in their home to surprise Piotrowski."

"I was deeply moved while reading Eric's citation …," the newsletter quoted Brautigan as saying.
Tremblay said Piotrowski's story was made more believable by the fact he was in the Marine Corps and did serve in the Middle East.

But Piotrowski, after first insisting he was entitled to the Silver Star when he was interviewed by FBI agents on March 17, confessed in a second interview on March 20 that he was back in the United States when Desert Storm commenced and "did not encounter any hostile action," according to Burgeson's affidavit.

Trooper Michael Studin Fined for Speeding 133mph

A Vermont State Police trooper has paid a $1,000 fine for driving at an excessive speed while on duty last October, according to the office of the state's Attorney General.

A state police investigation recently concluded trooper Michael Studin drove an unmarked, high performance vehicle on Interstate 91 in the town of Rockingham on Oct. 29, 2008.

He was clocked at 133 mph while on duty, but not responding to an emergency at the time.

Assistant Attorney General John Treadwell said the office was asked to review the initial investigation to make a determination on how to proceed.

The Vermont Attorney General's Office issued Studin a ticket for the maximum statutory penalty.

"This certainly suggests that people driving at excessive speeds will be held accountable," said Treadwell. "Clearly, there are reasons why (troopers) may need to respond to emergencies at high speeds," he said, but the law states it is only in these crisis situations.

"Law enforcement officers by law are authorized to exceed the speed limit on duty; however this exemption did not apply in this case," said Public Safety Commissioner Thomas R. Tremblay in a statement. "The speed that I witnessed in this matter was extremely unsafe and the trooper's judgment was not in line with the high standards expected of a Vermont state trooper."

A normal fine on a speeding ticket for traveling 133 mph in a posted 65 mph zone on the highway is $638.

"Trooper Studin has been held accountable and has accepted responsibility for his actions; he has my full support as he works to put this mistake behind him," said Tremblay. "In our country, more law enforcement officers are killed in traffic crashes than by armed adversaries. The safety of our troopers and the traveling public is obviously a high priority in our important public safety mission."

In a press statement from the state police, the VSP requested the Attorney General's office to conduct an investigation, and concurred with the issuing of a Vermont traffic complaint.

"While Vermont law allows police to exceed maximum speed limits, those exemptions did not apply in this case. The trooper's actions during this incident did not conform to the core values expected of a Vermont state trooper," said Major John Filipek, commander of the Field Force Division, in the press release.

The speeding ticket was paid Friday.

Detective Eugene Magwood Accused of Giving False Information

The State Law Enforcement Division on Thursday arrested a nine-year veteran of the Charleston County sheriff's office and accused him of forging a witness' lineup document and giving false information to the 9th Circuit solicitor's office about a 2006 rape case.

Detective Eugene Magwood, 54, of Johns Island, is charged with common law misconduct in office, a crime with a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, said Mark Plowden, public information officer for the S.C. attorney general's office.

Magwood, who has been an investigator since 2001, was released on a personal recognizance bond and placed on administrative leave with pay, sheriff's Maj. John Clark said.

An arrest affidavit said Magwood provided false information in the form of a photo lineup. The accusation is that he forged a witness' signature or initials, Plowden said.

The affidavit said that in pre-trial meetings, "Magwood did knowingly and willfully provide false information to an Assistant Solicitor and an investigator for the Solicitor's Office regarding the investigation and the accompanying investigative report."

Citing the ongoing nature of the state's investigation, Plowden and Clark wouldn't reveal more details. Clark said the sheriff's office spotted discrepancies and reported them to solicitors and SLED.

"We did not like what we saw," Clark said.

Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the case because it involves solicitors who could be called as witnesses. It is not clear how, if it all, the arrest will affect the 2006 rape case or any other cases Magwood investigated.

Magwood could not be reached for comment. He had first been employed by the sheriff's office as a detention officer in 1998 and became a deputy in 2000, Clark said.

Officer Kimberly Whyley Being Sued for Breaking 88-year-old Mans Arm

An 88-year-old Kansas City, Missouri, man says a female cop broke his arm, and now he's suing the tiny Northland city of Oakview, population 387, for $5 million.

Oakview police officer Kimberly Whyley, 38, faces misdemeanor assault charges in the incident, which was captured on her patrol car's dash-cam. But for Theresa Forte, wife of alleged victim Phillip Forte, the criminal charge isn't enough.

"The policeman who brought him (Phillip) home was nice," said Theresa Forte. "And he said 'I had nothing to do with this now, Mrs. Forte'."

Theresa, who has been married to Phillip for 66 years, says she barely recognized him when he came home on February 12th.

"Well I saw Phil, full of blood and I said what happened?" said Theresa. "I thought he had an accident."

Phillip Forte is at a rehab center being treated because of a broken arm that Theresa says he suffered in the incident.

According to the lawsuit, Officer Whyley pulled the man over on North Oak Trafficway for driving with no headlights in the dark. The lawsuit alleges that Forte took his foot off the brake while his car was in neutral, causing the vehicle to roll backwards and accidentally hit the officer in her car while she was writing a ticket and causing Whyley to become enraged.

But Whyley's attorney, Bill Shull, contends that Forte was resisting arrest.

"Do you think she overreacted?," asked Shull. "I've seen the camera from the police car, I don't think she did."

Shull says that Forte resisted and fought Whyley while she kept telling him to turn over. Shull also says that Forte was driving on a suspended license and had been in an accident just an hour earlier in nearby Gladstone.

Theresa Forte says her husband isn't the fighting type, but that she is.

"I could've gone up there and knocked the hell out of her, that's my reaction," said Theresa.

Officer Whyley is on paid leave pending the outcome of the criminal case.