Ex-cop accused of hitting man pleads guilty to lesser charge

AP News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2015 5:11 PM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former Pennsylvania officer has agreed to never again work as a policeman in return for his guilty plea to a reduced, misdemeanor charge that he violated the civil rights of a man he threw to the ground and slugged.

Norman Howard III, 43, was an officer in Redstone Township when the incident occurred May 26, 2003.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung told the judge Friday that another township officer was following a car about 1:30 a.m. when Howard took over as the other officer drove away.

In the car were David Novotney, 25, of Brier Hill, who had been drinking but wasn't driving, and his 17-year-old twin brothers, Chung said. They were driving home from a night of playing video games and cards with friends.

Chung told the judge that Howard followed the car until it pulled into the driveway. Howard was past the Novotney house and driving away when the eldest brother "waved" at Howard, prompting the officer to turn around, activate his emergency lights and stop, she said.

Novotney got out of the car, and Howard threw Novotney to the ground and punched him, Chung said, without legal provocation.

Before the plea hearing, Howard had faced a felony civil rights charge, carrying up to 10 years in prison, and a related charge that he falsified a police report about the incident. That was dropped as part of the plea agreement.

The misdemeanor civil rights charge covers the same allegations — that Howard was acting in his official capacity and willfully deprived Novotney of his right to be free from the use of unreasonable force — but carries only a one-year maximum prison term or up to five years' probation, according to court records. The felony charge would have also required prosecutors to prove that Novotney suffered "bodily injury."

Chung referred questions about the plea bargain to a U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman, who didn't immediately comment.

Defense attorney Charles Porter Jr. said if the judge approves the plea agreement at Howard's Jan. 22 sentencing, he'll receive some sort of probation to include six months' house arrest.

The misdemeanor conviction wouldn't prevent Howard from working as a police officer in the future, but Howard agreed to the employment ban anyway because "he doesn't want to work as a police officer again in today's world," Porter said.

Porter said the plea agreement was struck because the evidence amounted to the brothers' statements against Howard's, and they conflicted.

"This was not a smoking gun case for either side," Porter said, who claimed Novotney also shouted and gestured at Howard, without offering specifics.

Online court records show Novotney was charged with aggravated assault and several other serious crimes in state court, but they were dismissed, and he pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct citation. He wasn't fined, but was ordered to pay about $160 in court costs, court records show.

A home telephone for Novotney was disconnected Friday, and court records didn't list a criminal defense attorney.

Howard didn't lose his Redstone Township police job because of the federal indictment, which a grand jury returned in April. He had resigned in September 2014 after he was charged with knocking out a woman's tooth during an unrelated domestic dispute. A judge dismissed those charges after Howard and the woman completed court-ordered counseling, records show.