- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The city police chief wants to fire an officer who allegedly roughed up a drunk man he arrested at a high school championship football game in November, the Pittsburgh’s police union attorney said.

Sgt. Stephen Matakovich, 47, a 22-year veteran, has been suspended for five days pending termination, Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bryan Campbell said. The sergeant will appeal to the city’s public safety director on Tuesday. If the firing is upheld, the union will seek arbitration to get the sergeant’s job back, Campbell said.

The district attorney plans to refile charges of simple assault and official oppression that a district judge dismissed against Matakovich earlier this month.

The judge tossed the charges even after a city police expert reviewed security video of the arrest and testified Matakovich “was not reasonable” in pushing the man down and striking him. The FBI is also reviewing the incident for possible civil rights violations.

Matakovich was working a security detail at Heinz Field during the WPIAL playoffs when the incident occurred. The detail was not part of his regularly scheduled police duties, but Matakovich was in uniform and earning extra pay that is funneled from the event organizer through the city.

Matakovich’s defense attorney, Blaine Jones, said after the charges were dismissed that the officer was merely being proactive in pushing down and striking Gabriel Despres, who was 19 at the time. Matakovich testified at his preliminary hearing on Feb. 1 that he believed Despres was about to attack him.

But Officer David Wright, the city’s expert on use of force, reviewed security video of the incident and testified that Matakovich was wrong to react the way he did.

The video shows Despres standing in front of the officer with his hands at his sides and not moving toward Matakovich or otherwise acting aggressively. That’s why Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said probable cause exists to refile the charges.

That has yet to occur, although police Chief Cameron McLay also has said he supports refiling the charges.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the decision to file the charges “was reached not only by Chief McLay, but also internally by our training officer, who is an expert in the use of force, as well as the DA’s office,” Peduto said. The mayor stopped short of saying whether he supports firing Matakovich.

“My job is to make sure that we pursue a professional and a fair police bureau, and I give trust in my chief to make sure it’s being done,” he said.

Jones, the defense attorney, referred questions to Campbell, the union attorney.

Officer Howard McQuillan, the union’s president, said the collective bargaining agreement forbids him from commenting while Matakovich’s status is part of an “ongoing internal proceeding.”

Despres faces a preliminary hearing next month on charges of public drunkenness, underage drinking and defiant trespass.

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