A surveillance tape used to identify Zane Ryan Zebrasky as the man who allegedly dropped $3,000 worth of cocaine in a Washington High School stairwell last week was the same tape used to prove his innocence.
So what changed? Twenty-five additional minutes of surveillance footage.
Washington police Tuesday afternoon dropped all charges against Zebrasky, 24, of 1006 Maplewood Drive, Canonsburg. Zebrasky, who works with special needs students at the school, was charged with possession and possession with intent to deliver cocaine, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children in connection with an incident last Thursday in which a bag of cocaine was found by a student.
An extended surveillance video provided by the school district to police seemed to paint a drastically different picture of what happened in the school stairwell that day.
Police originally thought Zebrasky dropped the 32.5-gram bag of cocaine while walking down a stairwell between the ground floor and basement of the school. But 25 minutes before Zebrasky appeared on tape, police saw a small object – believed to be the bag of cocaine – was thrown down the stairwell by an individual not captured on camera.
The small object was caught by an unidentified male, who immediately dropped it on the floor and kept walking. After that point, the object was not visible on the surveillance camera.
Washington police Chief Chris Luppino said given the full context of the video, it appears Zebrasky kicked the bag of cocaine into view while walking down the steps without realizing he had done so. Zebrasky again walked up the stairs five minutes later and did not appear to notice the bag on the ground.
Officer Todd Foreman, the school resource officer, said a student found the bag in the stairwell and turned it over to a teacher. The teacher gave it to the principal, who in turn gave it to Foreman. The powdery substance field-tested positive as being cocaine.
Zebrasky, who is employed by a third party and not by the school district, was banned from school property as a condition of his bond. A hearing set for June 4 before District Judge Robert Redlinger is canceled.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but we continued our investigation and found he wasn’t guilty,” Luppino said.
After charges were dropped, Zebrasky received a flood of support from friends and family after posting “God is good” on his Facebook page Tuesday evening.
His mother, Washington Park Elementary principal Kelley Zebrasky, said their family never doubted Zane’s innocence.
“We are proud to say that Zane never wavered from the truth,” Kelley Zebrasky wrote in an email Tuesday evening. “We are truly blessed and give thanks first to God and then to those who stood by us during this shocking experience.”
She added, “My advice to Zane was the same I give to students that come to me as a principal: ‘The truth will set you free.’ No matter what, telling the truth is important.”
Zane Zebrasky also was the subject of controversy after he filmed a rap video titled “You Don’t Know Me” in the high school last month, although he reportedly received permission to do so. Zebrasky went to Washington schools but transferred to Canon-McMillan High School before his freshman year.
Police do not believe the individual who caught the suspected bag of cocaine was directly involved. The investigation is ongoing to determine who is responsible.
Luppino said school district officials continued to review the surveillance tape and notified police of their discovery about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. He said he did not know why a longer version of the tape was not originally provided to police.
District Superintendent Roberta DiLorenza could not be reached for comment Tuesday after school hours.
Luppino said the school’s motion-activated surveillance video is “a little choppy,” but at the time it seemed there was no question that Zebrasky was responsible for the cocaine.
“In this case, it seemed clear, you know, but it’s not always what it appears,” Luppino said. “Not all of our job is putting bad guys in jail. It’s proving people are innocent, too.”
Luppino added, “I’m glad to see he’s cleared, and we’ll continue our investigation and hopefully we’ll find out whose (cocaine) it is.”