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City man objects to judge’s review

Piner contends he wanted district judge to eye case

An Altoona man serving a lengthy prison sentence for his role in a cocaine distribution ring that operated in Blair County a decade ago has objected to the recommended dismissal of a civil rights lawsuit he filed in the federal District Court, Johnstown.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Pesto on March 9 recommended that the civil rights action brought by Kenneth J. Piner be rejected, noting Piner cannot sue the officers, the Attorney General’s Narcotics Strike Force and the West Drug Task Force unless his conviction for drug offenses is overturned.

Pesto in his recommendation wrote, “If plaintiff (Piner) ever has a claim, it will only be ripe when his conviction is overturned by a final order in his favor by a trial or appellate court.”

Piner, 60, is serving a 36- to 72-year prison sentence for the role he played in a Baltimore-to-Altoona cocaine ring broken up by police in November 2011.

He has objected to Pesto’s recommendation.

He contends that he never agreed that his civil rights case should be reviewed initially by a magistrate judge.

He said he submitted a form to the court clerk in Johnstown stating he wanted a district judge to conduct a review of the case.

Piner also objected to Pesto’s review of his lawsuit, pointing out that when the magistrate judge was an assistant district attorney in Blair County, he aided in the prosecution of a murder case in which Kenneth and his brother Stephen Piner were suspects — along with two other men.

A jury found the two other men in the 1983 murder of Julius Jackson, an Altoona bar owner, not guilty, although Piner stated, at the advice of his defense attorney, he entered a plea to threatening Jackson during an argument.

When it came to the drug delivery investigation in 2011, Piner stated in his civil rights lawsuit that the roles he and his brother Stephen played were exaggerated by investigators.

Piner described his brother and him as “two local drug addicts involved in ‘street level’ drug sales in support of their own habits.”

The Piners denied allegations they were key members of the organization.

Piner in his objection contends Pesto should not have been assigned to review his civil rights case because of his role in prosecuting the Piners because of what he called ” a failed attempt with others to have plaintiff convicted of a murder he did not commit.”

Piner, an inmate in the State Correctional Institution at Rockview, filed his civil rights action on behalf of himself and his brother Stephen.

Pesto concluded that the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act does not permit Ken Piner to file a complaint on behalf of his brother Stephen, 62, who is incarcerated in the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon.

In his recommendation, Pesto wrote, “if Stephen Piner wishes to litigate, he must do so in his own separate action.”

The ultimate decision whether Piner’s civil rights action can move forward will be up to U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson.

Piner’s civil rights lawsuit charges malicious prosecution in the drug case by the AG’s Bureau of Narcotics, the West Drug Task Force and 10 officers associated with the investigation.

It also names as defendants the commonwealth and Blair County.

While Piner is serving a 36-year minimum prison term on the drug charges, Blair County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel J. Milliron has announced he intends to resentence Piner.

That resentencing is scheduled before Milliron on the afternoon of June 1.

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