The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Brian Bowling - November 1, 2011
A Washington County police chief agreed to buy Tasers and act as protection for people he thought were drug dealers, an FBI agent testified on Monday. Three days after the FBI arrested East Washington police Chief Donald Solomon, 55, authorities explained how he violated the Hobbs Act, which prohibits government officials from using their positions to extort money. Solomon pleaded not guilty. U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert C. Mitchell ordered him held without bail, saying the chief presented himself to undercover agents as "the best cop that money could buy" and bragged about killing people or having others kill for him. Assistant Federal Public Defender Marketa Sims argued for Solomon's release because he has no history of violence or crime before the charges. She said agents coaxed him into bragging about killing people or having others hurt or kill people, but there is no evidence he's done any of that. "He's suddenly blossomed into this violent, Tony Soprano figure? That's not what we know about people," she said. East Washington Solicitor Cary Jones said borough officials did not expect the charges because the council never received a complaint about Solomon during his two years as chief or the previous two decades as a part-time police officer. "I just think it was a shock to people on borough council and borough residents because it seems out of character," Jones said. Solomon has always been "polite, professional, friendly, hard working, intelligent -- he just did his job." FBI Special Agent Joseph Bieshelt testified that police were investigating a drive-by shooting that damaged a car and the house where Solomon's ex-girlfriend lived this year. The car belonged to her current boyfriend, Bieshelt said.
The investigation led them to Solomon, who agreed to supply Tasers, restricted to law enforcement use, for an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer, the agent said. Solomon also agreed to provide protection for two fake drug deals conducted by undercover agents, the indictment states. The agents paid Solomon $500 "per kilogram" for the protection, according to the indictment. Sims said there would be little argument about the facts in the case, but considerable debate over how they should be interpreted. The FBI coaxed Solomon into making threats against his ex-girlfriend and an unnamed borough councilman, and he went along with them because he was desperate for the money they offered, Sims said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Cessar argued that Solomon is a danger to himself and the community because he was recorded repeatedly threatening his ex-girlfriend, the councilman and others, as well as telling a friend that he'd shoot himself rather than go to jail. He said the drive-by shooting happened before the FBI got involved. Authorities did not elaborate in court about Solomon's alleged boasts of killing people. Solomon appeared in court unshaven and wearing red jail garb. Other than responding to questions from Mitchell, he remained silent. Solomon's arrest took borough officials by surprise. On Friday, Mayor Mark Pacilla, who oversees the police department, said that Solomon was suspended with pay. A community of 2,234 people, East Washington neighbors the county seat. Part of Washington & Jefferson College sits within its limits. Timothy D. Johnson, 40, of Washington also was arraigned yesterday. During Solomon's hearing, authorities identified Johnson as the man who shot the car and house. He is charged only with illegal possession and transfer of a silencer. Mitchell ordered Johnson held without bail. Johnson's lawyer, Lee Markovitz, said after the hearing that Johnson is a truck driver who has been steadily employed with no criminal record since he got out of the Army in 1992. Johnson made a "somewhat inculpatory" statement to investigators when he thought that he wouldn't be charged in the case, Markovitz said. Brian Bowling can be reached at email@example.com or 412-325-4301.