Friends weigh in on disgraced former police chief awaiting sentencing

May 7, 2013

Supporters of a disgraced former police chief in Washington County have pleaded for leniency before a federal court judge scheduled to sentence him next week for extortion for accepting $8,800 to stand guard in uniform as federal agents carried out fake cocaine shipments in 2011.

A minister, a deputy fire chief in Peters Township and a former colleague in emergency medical service were among those who provided written statements to U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti upholding the character of former East Washington police chief Donald A. Solomon before she issues his sentence at 10 a.m. May 16, court records show. The sentencing had previously been scheduled for today but was postponed at the request of Solomon’s attorney.

“Don is an honest man (who) has made mistakes and now is challenged with righting his wrongs,” Noel McMullen, Peters Township deputy fire chief, wrote to the court. “I do not feel society would benefit in any way by having him incarcerated. If I can be of any assistance I stand ready to help Don in his future endeavors.”

Solomon, 57, who was appointed East Washington police chief in 2009, pleaded guilty Jan. 4 to providing protection on two occasions, armed and arriving in a police cruiser, as undercover agents staged the sales of large quantities of cocaine in September 2011. Prosecutors claimed he bragged about being “the best cop money can buy” while also using his position to purchase two Tasers for undercover agents. He has been free under curfew since pleading guilty, and holds a job in the meat department of a local Giant Eagle store, his public defender, Marketa Sims, stated in her sentencing memorandum filed Friday.

She has asked for a sentence of 30 to 37 months in prison for Solomon, arguing sentencing guidelines have not addressed the circumstances in which the government controlled the amount of fake drugs to be used in such an arrest. She further argued in court records that her client should not face accusations of conspiracy and drug dealing because the cocaine was fake.

Prosecutors are seeking a nine-year prison sentence in the case, and contend Solomon’s arguments are meritless for a former officer “who sold his badge to protect drug deals,” the record indicates.

U.S. Attorney David J. Hickton reminded the court Solomon pleaded guilty to counts that “specifically deal with drug activity” and did not object to any portion of the background of the case. He also argued case law requires only that Solomon acted with the “purpose of facilitating another offense,” even so far as to having told a co-conspirator he “planned to vacation with the purported drug dealer in Florida.”

Sims, meanwhile, claimed Solomon was lured into the drug deals by agents who knew he “was emotionally and financially vulnerable” because he was depressed and experiencing financial problems stemming from his strained marriage.

His pastor, the Rev. Michael Roach of Trinity Bible Fellowship in Washington, wrote to the court stating Solomon is a “good, intelligent, well-trained man who allowed himself to get caught up in an incredibly stupid episode,” the record shows.

Jeffrey Blackhurst, who has worked alongside Solomon in the field since the early 1980s, wrote to the court that he was shocked and disturbed by “sensationalized media reports” regarding his friend’s arrest.

“As a health care provider, it was blatantly obvious to me that these were not the actions of a seasoned criminal, but those of a man living his darkest days, caught in the web of acute (and) chronic depression,” Blackhurst stated in the record.

Sims asked that her client’s “good works” during his 38-year career not be overlooked by the judge in imposing a sentence.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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