Decision reversed in case of ex-officer

Police in a standoff with a criminal suspect are not required to recite his constitutional rights before asking him questions, according to a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in a Blair County case involving retired Altoona Police detective Craig Zahradnik.

The ruling by the three-judge panel this month reversed a decision by Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva who 10 months ago suppressed a statement Zahradnik allegedly made to officers who came to his home to serve him with an arrest warrant for stalking his estranged wife.

Police – Zahradnik’s former colleagues – surrounded his home and asked him to come outside so they could serve him with a warrant.

Zahradnik refused to come outside, and city detective Ashley Day started a conversation with him by way of a cellphone.

During the give-and-take, Day is to have asked Zahradnik, “Did you know you were following (your wife) around?”

“Yes, I was following her around because she was ignoring me,” he replied.

Zahradnik and his defense team asked the judge to suppress the statement, meaning it can’t be used against him, because at the time he was, in essence, in police custody and police should have advised him of his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent and his right to an attorney.

The attorney for Zahradnik, Kristen Anastasi, argued that Zahradnik, surrounded by police, was really in police custody at the time he was being quizzed and therefore he should have been advised on his rights.

Deputy Attorney General Clark H. Madden contended Zahradnik was not in custody, even though he was surrounded by police.

Kopriva stated Zahradnik on the morning of Sept. 26, 2012, was “significantly deprived of his freedom when Altoona police officers surrounded his residence in preparation of serving an arrest warrant.”

“The police should have known such an interrogation question would be reasonably likely to illicit an incriminating response,” Kopriva stated. She ruled that Zahradnik’s statement was involuntary, despite his personal experience as a police officer.

The three-judge panel, consisting of President Judge Emeritus John T. Bender, and Judges Judith Ference Olson and James J. Fitzgerald, concluded that Zahradnik was not in custody because he was barricaded in his home and his statement did not stem from a police interrogation but instead from Day’s attempts to resolve the standoff peaceably.

The Superior Court judges cited a similar 1996 case in which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court pointed out that police were attempting at the time of the standoff to encourage a suspect’s surrender, rather than interrogating him.

The Zahradnik case will now be sent back to Blair County for trial.

Charges were filed because his former wife contended on five or six occasions he was following her, and she said she was in fear.