- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A fired city police sergeant has pleaded not guilty to charges he violated the civil rights of a drunken man by punching and pushing him during his November arrest at a high school football game then filed false reports to justify his actions.

Stephen Matakovich, 47, was charged by a federal grand jury earlier this month. He was arraigned before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh on Tuesday on charges of willful deprivation of civil rights and falsification of records and allowed to remain free on bond pending trial.

Defense attorney Blaine Jones, who still represents Matakovich on related state charges, has said the 22-year veteran officer is prepared to fight the federal counts. But Matakovich was represented at his arraignment by Tina Miller, a former federal prosecutor. She and Matakovich declined comment as they left the arraignment and dodged reporters outside the federal courthouse downtown.

Matakovich was charged after security video from Heinz Field showed the suspect standing with his hands at his sides and not advancing when the officer suddenly pushes him down and then strikes him in the face as he tries to get to his feet. The suspect was treated for a bloody nose.

Jones and Matakovich have previously argued Matakovich rightly used force because he believed the suspect was threatening and had adopted an aggressive posture. But Pittsburgh police charged Matakovich - and Chief Cameron McLay fired him - after video of the Nov. 28 confrontation at a Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League championship game surfaced in December.

A city district judge in February dismissed charges of simple assault and official oppression against Matakovich even after a city police expert on the use of force reviewed the video and testified that Matakovich “was not reasonable” in pushing down the man and striking him.

The charges were refiled along with a felony perjury charge based upon Matakovich’s testimony at the February preliminary hearing.

Another city district judge earlier this month dismissed the perjury charge, along with a new charge of unsworn falsification, stemming from Matakovich’s police report on the incident. But Matakovich was ordered to stand trial in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court on the simple assault and official oppression charges originally filed by city police.

Matakovich didn’t comment in court beyond responding, “Yes ma’am,” when asked questions by U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly. The questions concerned whether guns owned by Matakovich had been removed from his home - they have - and whether he understood that he cannot obtain a passport while he’s free on bond awaiting his federal court trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung told the judge that she’s turned over evidence, known as discovery, to Miller. The evidence includes transcripts of Matakovich’s preliminary hearing testimony and an interview he did with a local television reporter, the Heinz Field video, and various reports Matakovich has filed on the arrest.

Matakovich faces up to 10 years in prison on the federal civil rights charge and up to 20 years for the records falsification charge, both felonies, if convicted.

The suspect he arrested, Gabriel Despres, 20, still faces a preliminary hearing in May on charges including defiant trespass and public drunkenness. He hasn’t returned calls for comment on the charges Matakovich faces and doesn’t have an attorney listed in court papers.

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