MERCER – Sharon patrolman Joseph Gaston testified in common pleas court Friday that he gave the Mercer County district attorney special treatment during a disturbance call he was involved in because of his position.
District Attorney Miles K. Karson Jr. has been charged by the Office of the State Attorney General with 14 counts of obstruction of justice and official oppression. He is accused of asking for special treatment in a case involving a local woman, Tonya K. Bulboff, whom prosecutors say was his love interest.
After hours of testimony, prosecutors called Gaston and Sue Ann Herald, a Sharon resident, to testify about a disturbance on Oct. 16, 2016, between a man and woman later identified as Karson and Bulboff at 509 Carley Ave. in Sharon.
Herald, who lives across the street, testified that on that morning, a woman burst from a side door of the house and was screaming and yelling. She said an older man was trying to get her back into the house.
“She was extremely distraught,” Herald testified. “She was hysterical ... She was wearing a bra and panties, and I remember they were red and black.”
She said the pair went back inside, and she heard screaming and yelling coming from the house.
Bulboff, Herald said, repeated a phrase several times.
“You’re the [expletive] DA of Mercer County, and I’m gonna tell everyone you’re [expletive] me,” Herald testified.
Herald testified that she called 911 and Sharon police responded shortly after her call.
“One officer was there for a minute or less,” Herald testified. “After he left ... I handed her a phone number and she said her name was Tonya. She told me thank you, and she said, ‘You see the police have been here, and what have they done? Nothing.”
Herald testified that she gave her name and cell phone number to the dispatcher, but no one ever spoke to her about the incident. On Sunday, she was interviewed by the Office of the Attorney General in preparation for trial, she said during cross examination by defense Attorney Alexander H. Lindsay Jr. of Butler.
Gaston took the stand next and recalled the events from Oct. 16, 2016, and two days following the incident.
Deputy Attorney General Evan T. Lowry said that Gaston was given “use immunity” by his office in exchange for his testimony. Use immunity prevents the prosecution only from using the witness’s own testimony or any evidence derived from the testimony against the witness.
On that morning, Gaston said he and another officer responded to the 911 call at 509 Carley Ave., and when he knocked on the door, Bulboff opened it.
“She just gave us a blank stare,” Gaston testified. “It was peculiar. It was weird. I asked her if everything was OK, and she said nothing.”
Gaston said he asked for the man involved, and Bulboff went to get him.
Next, Karson, whom Gaston knew was the district attorney, appeared in the doorway.
“He says, ‘Everything’s OK here, guys,’” Gaston testified, adding that the district attorney shifted his focus to the other officer and repeated the phrase.
Lowry asked Gaston if he talked to Bulboff, if he separated Karson and Bulboff to get their stories, if he went into the house, if he made sure the woman was OK and if he identified Bulboff at that time. Gaston said he did not.
Gaston said that he and the other officer cleared the scene after interacting with Karson for about 20 seconds.
While still near the scene, Bulboff yelled at the officers. She wanted to know their names, and Gaston, who was a sergeant at the time, replied with his name.
“Do you need anything?” Gaston said he asked her.
“‘No, I see how things work here,’” she said to the officers.
As Gaston drove away he called then-Sharon police Chief Gerry Smith and he did not answer. He said he called more superiors until he reached Capt. Marc Johnson.
Gaston said he described the incident to Johnson. Johnson is expected to take the stand Monday morning.
“He said, ‘Write something up,’” Gaston testified.
But he said Johnson told him to make the report in Microsoft Word, not in the ALERT system used to store police reports. Gaston explained that with the Right to Know Act, anyone could find out what happened. But because the incident involved the district attorney, the situation was sensitive in nature, so he wrote the incident up in Word.
Gaston produced the report, printed it and left it in Johnson’s mailbox at the station, he testified.
When asked if he saved the report on the computer, Gaston said he just printed it, but that he did not think he saved it.
Gaston said normally police reports are generated on the ALERT system and then put up on the wall and saved on the computer.
Lowry said, “So you don’t have the document, you don’t know where it is,” adding that Gaston also could not provide it to the attorney general’s office. Gaston agreed.
“There was a virus or server crash at the station,” Gaston testified.
“Did you lose any other police documents besides the report in question?” Lowry asked.
“I lost some coaching material that I keep on the computer,” Gaston said, adding that he did not lose any other work documents.
“Did you take Miles Karson’s word more readily because he’s DA?” Lowry asked.
“Yes,” Gaston said.
“And did you give him more preferential treatment because he’s DA?” Lowry asked.
“Yes,” Gaston said.
“Two days after the incident were you put on leave?” Lowry asked.
“Yes. For coaching on duty,” Gaston said.
Gaston said Smith investigated the claim and sent his report to the Office of Attorney General.
Lowry asked if the Sharon Police Department took action against Gaston.
“I gave up my stripes. I was a sergeant, now I’m a patrolman,” Gaston said, adding that he was also penalized with a one-day reprimand.
On cross-examination, Lindsay asked if he had any other impressions of Bulboff on that day.
“She seemed to be put out that we were there,” Gaston testified.
The patrolman also said that the woman was fully clothed and that he saw no injuries on her.
In his grand jury testimony, Lindsay pointed out that Gaston said he would have arrested Karson if the woman had a black eye.
Presiding over the Karson trial, senior Judge H. William White of Venango County instructed the jury that Karson is not on trial for assault charges.
“If you came to that conclusion, that would not be fair,” White told the jury. “The questions are probing that (Karson) used his position to influence the Sharon police.”
Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: email@example.com