Undercover Pittsburgh detectives brawl with reputed Pagans in South Side bar

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Undercover Pittsburgh narcotics detectives and uniformed officers brawled early Friday morning inside a South Side bar with what police say were armed reputed members of the Pagans motorcycle club.

Pagans and police threw punches, the two sides grappled and shoved one another and a sergeant deployed pepper spray in the close confines of Kopy’s Bar on South 12th Street, according to criminal complaints.

A customer at the bar recorded several videos of the altercation, in which both uniformed and plainclothes detectives can be seen fighting with men in leather vests, some officers with Tasers in hand.

One man in plainclothes shouts, “I’m a [expletive] cop,” as he shoves a vested man to the ground and then stands over him, shouting, “You’re a [expletive] [expletive]...why don’t you [expletive] grab on to me again!”

The man on the ground says, “I didn’t!”

Police said they recovered two guns from the defendants and three large knives from the bar floor after the 12:43 a.m. melee.

[WARNING this video contains strong language]

There was no indication that anyone was seriously hurt during the knock-down, drag-out fight, although one defendant — Frank Deluca, 36, of Greenfield — was taken to UPMC Mercy before being brought to jail. A mug shot showed Mr. Deluca had two black eyes, with one swollen shut, and bruises on his forehead.

Also arrested were: Erik Hertzrater, 28, of Hampton; Bruce Thomas, 61, of Allentown; and Michael Zokaites, 28, of Shaler. They were all charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy and riot. 

The police paperwork describes a madhouse scene in which the defendants, who did not seem reluctant in the least to confront police officers, engaged in a wild free-for-all of punches, kicks and shoves.

Four narcotics detectives were working undercover inside Kopy’s, the target of complaints about being a site for drug dealing, when things took a violent turn, police said. Six men, at least some of whom were decked out in jeans jacket vests with “Pagans” written across the back, walked in and sat in the back near the pool table.

At some point, one of the detectives overheard a customer say, “Those guys are cops” while gesturing at the officers.

The narcotics officers realized their cover was blown. The Pagans members stared, Detective Brian Burgunder wrote in the complaints.

One detective walked over to the club members “and confirmed to them that we were, in fact, police officers and we were not there to infringe on anyone’s good time,” the complaint said. 

Two members of the Pagans group left. The four remaining men went out the back and then reappeared at a table right behind the detectives.

Things were cordial at first, police said. The groups shook hands multiple times. But Mr. Deluca started screaming and then pushed one of the detectives, police said.

By then, Sgt. Matt Turko and another uniformed officer had arrived.

Detective Burgunder said Zokaites — listed by police as 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds — punched him and another detective in the head and face, prompting another detective to punch and tackle Zokaites.

Detective Burgunder said he grabbed Mr. Deluca, felt a gun in his waistband and yelled a warning. Deluca — at 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, the smallest of the bunch — would not listen to police, the complaint said, and started kicking and punching.

Sgt. Turko unleashed his pepper spray, which hit both the defendants and his fellow officers.

Detective Burgunder yanked Mr. Deluca by his ponytail, but, police said, he continued to fight and was taken down after being punched in the face multiple times. Police said a gun was found in his waistband. Police said Mr. Thomas and Mr. Hertzrater were also taken into custody by force.

Mr. Hertzrater also had a gun in his waistband, police said. Both he and Mr. Deluca had permits to conceal carried weapons, according to the complaint.

Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Citizen Police Review Board, said Saturday that her organization opened an inquiry into the incident.

“The content of the video I saw raises questions as to the professional conduct of the officers involved,” she said.

The police bureau’s code of conduct requires that officers “be professional, polite, and civil.” It also requires officers “maintain decorum and command of temper and refrain from the inappropriate use of harsh, coarse, profane or uncivil language.”

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Jonathan D. Silver
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