Pitsnogle Acquitted

By: James Steiner
By: James Steiner

A Reno police sergeant acquitted of criminal misconduct charges will remain on leave but now will be paid while an internal investigation continues into allegations he coerced a teenage girl to take off her clothes during a traffic stop, a city spokesman said Thursday.

A Washoe District Court jury deliberated for less than four hours Wednesday night before finding Sgt. Paul Pitsnogle innocent of two charges - felony misconduct by an officer and misdemeanor open or gross lewdness.

As a result, his status with the police department has changed from administrative leave without pay to administrative leave with pay, in accordance with city policy, spokesman Steve Frady.

On April 3, Reno Police Chief Michael Poehlman requested the Sparks Police Department conduct an independent and impartial criminal investigation into allegations of on-duty misconduct by Pitsnogle when he stopped the 17-year-old girl and a friend early that morning.

He was placed on paid leave at that time but the pay was suspended on May 17 when a Washoe County grand jury indicted him on the two criminal charges.

Pitsnogle, an 11-year veteran of the Reno police force, testified during the eight-day trial that the teen tried to bribe him with offers of sexual favors to get out of a drunken driving arrest six months ago.

"He was acquitted because there wasn't enough evidence to convict him, never was," said David Houston, Pitsnogle's lead defense lawyer. "They ran him through the press as though he was a criminal."

The former Reno high school student, now 18, testified in often graphic terms in the weeklong trial before Judge Steven Elliott that Pitsnogle instructed her to remove her clothes in the back of his cruiser while he masturbated in the front seat after the traffic stop about 1 a.m.

The girl and her friend were driving home from a UB40 concert when they were stopped by Pitsnogle on a west Reno onramp to U.S. Interstate 80. She acknowledged she'd had some drinks and smoked
marijuana earlier. She said she ended up in the back seat of Pitsnogle's cruiser because he gave the impression he could be bribed, he thrust his pelvis toward her suggestively and she was scared.

Houston said she was failing the initial stages of a field sobriety test and, after several attempts to talk her way out of an arrest, offered to perform a sex act on Pitsnogle.

Deputy District Attorney Dan Greco said the teen's blood-alcohol level turned out to be 0.007 - a fraction of the legal limit. He said Pitsnogle violated numerous police procedures by failing to call for backup and failing to immediately file a report on the alleged offer of a bribe.


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