PITTSBURGH (AP) — A county sheriff threatened to cut off the hands of a political campaign worker, pulled a gun on a newspaper reporter and then intimidated underlings and other witnesses so they wouldn't confirm the encounters to journalists and investigators, police and prosecutors said Monday.
Beaver County Sheriff George David delivered expletive-fueled rants and uttered a racial slur to his alleged victims, according to a nine-page grand jury report supporting the charges.
"Shake my hand. I'll cut your ... hands off and I'll eat them. I'll cut your hands off," David told a Democratic campaign worker whom the sheriff believed had spoken ill about him behind his back, according to the grand jury.
David, a 65-year-old Democrat from Aliquippa, was arrested Monday at his office in Beaver, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, and arraigned by a district judge who set a preliminary hearing April 1. He was charged with simple assault, witness intimidation, terroristic threats, reckless endangerment, official oppression and obstructing the administration of law.
The sheriff does not have a listed home telephone number. His office referred calls to solicitor Myron Sainovich, who didn't immediately return messages. The county commissioners issued a statement saying they had no authority over David, because he's an elected official.
The campaign volunteer didn't report David's November 2011 threat to law enforcement for fear of losing his county job, authorities said.
When an online news website, the Beaver Countian, reported on it the following June, David then allegedly threatened the volunteer again.
In April, David allegedly also threatened the website's owner and lead reporter, John Paul Vranesevich, who had written about a controversy involving the purchase of deputies' uniforms.
Seated behind his desk, with two other deputies present, David allegedly threatened Vranesevich and complained about other stories written by J.D. Prose, a reporter for the Beaver County-Times. Referring to Prose, David put a blackjack on his desk and told Vranesevich he would beat Prose "worse than I used to beat the (blacks) in Aliquippa," using a racial slur, authorities said.
The grand jury said that encounter reached a "crescendo" when David began shouting, "If I knew I was going to die today, I would blow their ... brains out" — referring to Prose and county Prothonotary Nancy Werme, who David reportedly doesn't like, the grand jury found.
As the sheriff repeated that statement, witnesses said he took his gun from his holster and screamed at the online journalist, who previously had a good relationship with David.
"I'll blow your ... brains out, too," the sheriff said, according to the grand jury.
Vranesevich ran from the courthouse and told the grand jury he called the county detectives and also called Prose and Werme to warn them of David's remarks.
Afterward, two deputies wrote reports denying "that anything inappropriate happened during the meeting," the grand jury wrote, with one telling the panel he did so for fear of losing his job. Both deputies also told state troopers that David did nothing appropriate, before the deputy told the grand jury that David had asked him to lie.
"In the weeks and months following the incident, the sheriff repeatedly reiterated to at least one deputy that 'it never happened,'" the grand jury wrote. "This was understood as an effort on the sheriff's part to ensure that he maintained the deputy's loyalty and prevented the truth from being disclosed."
David was allowed to remain free after his arraignment, but was ordered by a district judge to have no contact with the alleged victims, to surrender his blackjack, and not to carry a firearm.