The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 19, 2013

Police illegally seized gun, judge rules

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — The case against Charles E. Pargo still is active, but Mercer County Common Pleas Court Judge Christopher J. St. John stripped police from using the gun as evidence.

Davis said prosecutors had not discussed whether they wanted to appeal to Superior Court.

Pargo, 23, of Youngstown, was arrested June 19 – he has been in jail since then – after police received an anonymous tip that two black men wearing red were seated in lawn chairs outside a home in the 1000 block of Wallis Avenue, Farrell, and were armed.

Southwest Mercer County Regional policemen said the home is in a high-crime area, particularly in terms of drug trafficking and discharge of firearms.

They testified that they had received several reports from in and around that address, including a suspect fleeing into the house and a group trying to break into it, both on June 12. Police also knew that a woman was the sole occupant of the house.

Sgt. Charles Rubano drove past the house following the anonymous call and saw two black men wearing red seated in lawn chairs. The men diverted their eyes when they saw him, Rubano testified at a Nov. 6 hearing.

Rubano parked his cruiser up the street, got out a rifle, and called for backup.

The men went into the house, police said.

After two other policeman responded, Rubano went to the front door and saw through a screen door a black man seated inside.

Rubano yelled several times for the man to come out while pointing his rifle at the man’s knees, and Pargo eventually complied.

Sgt. William Hite took Pargo to the ground, conducted a quick pat down and felt what he believed to be a gun in Pargo’s hip area.

Police pulled a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun from a pair of shorts underneath Pargo’s exterior shorts, and charged him with prohibited possession of a firearm – Pargo had past convictions for robbery and kidnapping in Ohio – and carrying a firearm without a license.

Pargo, represented by Assistant Public Defender Charles F. Gilchrest, argued the arrest was illegal because police did not have a warrant or probable cause or reasonable suspicion that a crime had occurred.

The fact that the tip was anonymous added “an additional layer of scrutiny” to police actions, St. John said.

“There is ... no credible evidence that Sgt. Rubano observed anything indicating that (Pargo) was involved in criminal activity,” St. John said in a ruling filed Friday.

The fact that Pargo and the other man averted their eyes “is deemed of no significance under the circumstances,” St. John said. “Nor is the fact that he later got up from his lawn chair and went into the residence.”

“(A)ny and all evidence obtained in this case from the stop and frisk of (Pargo), and thereafter, must be suppressed under both the federal and state constitutions,” the judge said.