Attorney General’s Office Won’t Take On New Allegations In Osagie Case
State College Borough Council President Jesse Barlow requested that the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office investigate new allegations made in a civil lawsuit over the fatal police shooting of Osaze Osagie in 2019 but was informed the state’s top prosecutor could not take on the case.
On Feb. 1, Barlow contacted the AG’s office with a request to specifically investigate allegations about now-retired borough police Capt. Chris Fishel. The Osagie family lawsuit alleges that Fishel, who later chaired an internal department review that cleared the officers involved, had been aware of a witness report to the department about alleged heavy drinking and domestic violence by the officer who shot and killed Osagie.
After the shooting, a witness allegedly contacted Fishel about now-former Officer Jordan Pieniazek’s “increasingly dangerous behavior,” but, the lawsuit claims, Fishel said not to take any action, because it would “complicate things.” The internal review board’s report, which was written by Fishel, contained no witness information related to Pieniazek.
“I wasn’t particularly asking them to reopen the Osagie case, because I assumed that if they were going to do that they could have done that a year ago or two years ago,” Barlow said.
Barlow said an inspector from the AG’s office told him they could not take on the investigation unless Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna recused from the case.
“The primary responsibility in these matters is with the local district attorney,” Cantorna said.
Barlow said he informed Cantorna of the request to the attorney general but did not ask him to recuse.
A spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment this week.
Cantorna, who cleared the officers involved of wrongdoing following a state police investigation in 2019, said last month he was not previously aware of the new allegations contained in the Osagie family’s amended complaint.
He referred the allegations to state police at Rockview for review and investigation.
State College Borough Council members also said in a joint statement that they did not know about the accusations prior to the filing of the amended complaint.
Attorneys for the Osagie family and members of advocacy groups, including the 3/20 Coalition, have said another state police investigation is not sufficient.
“The state police either ignored or weren’t interested in this information in the initial go-round,” Osagie family attorney Andrew Shubin said in January. “We want to make sure the investigation is done by people who don’t have a vested interest already. If they screwed this up then someone else should be doing it.”
“Are we to believe that the police investigating the police is an independent investigation that the DA has called for?” coalition member Geoffrey Landers-Nolan said during a State College Borough Council meeting earlier this month.
Barlow said he discussed approaching the Attorney General’s Office during an executive session with fellow council members “and for the most part the feedback was positive.”
He also said he told State College administrators and the borough’s attorney and that “they took no stand on it.”
A spokesperson and an attorney for the borough did not respond to a request for comment this week.
“From my point of view this went nowhere because the Attorney General’s Office said they couldn’t investigate it, but I wanted to make it public that council is very concerned about this issue and wanted it fully investigated,” Barlow said.
Mayor Ron Filippelli and Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said in a statement last month that the lawsuit’s amended complaint “contains false claims, and half-truths, while also leaving out critical facts and context to understanding the incident, the background and the persons involved, the background and the persons involved.”
They added that the borough and the officers would respond “in detail to the inaccuracies contained in the amended complaint,” when they file an answer in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania.
The borough and four officers who are defendants in the case have until March 26 to file their answer to the amended complaint.
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