HOLLIDAYSBURG - Altoona police memos allegedly indicate that the alleged cover-up of a brawl at Pellegrine's Lounge more than two years ago might have involved more than the four officers no longer with the department as a result of the incident.
Two former officers are facing charges of assault, conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their alleged roles in the brawl. Two other officers reportedly involved in the alleged cover-up are no longer with the Altoona police.
The memos were sealed in May when a pretrial defense motion was filed to dismiss the charges.
One of those memos, according to an opinion issued two weeks ago by Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan, "references the withholding of information by Chief [Janice] Freehling." The memo, written by retired city detective Craig Zahradnik, does not elaborate about what may have been withheld.
Freehling said Thursday that she hadn't read Sullivan's opinion and didn't know about the referenced memos. She reiterated that she and the Altoona Police Department brass never withheld any information from state police or tried to cover up the alleged incident at Pellegrine's Lounge on Memorial Day weekend 2010.
"I can assure you I have not withheld any information from any investigation," Freehling said. "The moment I became aware of off-duty officers being involved in the incident I contacted Lt. [Timothy] Mercer at the state police."
Zahradnik declined Thursday to provide about the details of the sealed memos to the Mirror. He cited the newspaper's unwillingness to remove negative news stories about him from its website detailing an alleged incident four months after the Pellegrine's fight.
Zahradnik's ex-wife accused him in a protection-from-abuse order of making drunken threats against a male friend of hers the night he was pulled over by police with a large knife and gloves on the passenger seat of his car. Zahradnik was never charged with a crime after a state police investigation and retired after the alleged incident.
"I'm not talking about anything right now. ... I'm not talking to anybody about anything," he said.
Sullivan dismissed the defense request to drop conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges against one of the officers, Eric R. Kriner, pointing out the argument by his attorney, Roger Laguna of Harrisburg, did not meet the requirements of the legal test for selective prosecution.
Sullivan's opinion stated that Zahradnik, who now operates Zahradnik Investigations in Altoona, authored the memos which the defense contends shows Kriner was selected for prosecution "while others who were involved in the alleged 'cover-up' were not."
"This assertion has not been supported by any credible evidence that others engaged in conduct similar to the defendants," Sullivan stated.
Laguna on Thursday said he could not discuss the memos that he presented during his argument to the judge because of the continuing court seal on the documents. He did say the memos would be introduced during the upcoming trial of the two former patrol officers, Kriner, 32, and Duane J. Eichenlaub, 29.
Freehling said she doesn't believe there were any other members of the police department administration who withheld any information, either to state police or those responsible for the internal investigation at APD. The internal investigation was to see if any officers violated departmental policy, and Zahradnik was not involved in that probe, she said.
The judge was asked to unseal the memos mentioned in his opinion, but after discussing the possibility of them becoming public with prosecutors and with Laguna and Eichenlaub's attorney, Lawrence J. Rosen of Harrisburg, he decided to maintain the seal on the documents.
Sullivan said he is maintaining the seal on the police memos to ensure that a fair and impartial jury, comprised of Blair County residents and to make sure the case is not tried in the news media.
The fight at Pellegrine's led to the arrest Kriner and Eichenlaub, who, while off-duty, allegedly assaulted a man who supposedly lifted the dress of Eichenlaub's wife during the evening.
Eichenlaub, 29, is charged with following Herman "Bo" Lardieri III, 40, who in a recent trial denied the incident, into the men's restroom and began to beat him. Kriner also was charged with the assault on Lardieri.
Both former officers also are charged with beating a bystander who came to Lardieri's aid, Earl Eshelman, 60. Eshelman suffered serious injuries to his face and an eye.
Sullivan has indicated that the trial could be held as early as November.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468. Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.