Friday, February 15, 2008

Eye Witness Id's Wrong Man, Spends Two Months In Jail Before Cleared

Wrong Man Arrested For Pittsburgh Bank Robbery

February 15, 2008

Karen Welles- Channel 11 WPXI

PITTSBURGH -- Michael Disimo spent two months in jail after he was accused of bank robbery.

On September 30th, 2005 a man walked into a National City Bank in Bethel Park and robbed a teller.

Not long after the robber a police officer pulled Disimo over along route 88.

The officer thought he matched the description of the robber.

The bank teller was brought to the place where police stopped Disimo to identify him.

Police positioned the teller 100-feet away from Disimo. From this distance she couldn't make a positive identification, so they moved her 50-feet closer to Disimo--still no positive id.

Finally police positioned her just 15-feet from Disimo.

At that point police said the woman said she was 100-percent sure it was him.

Disimo said,” He placed handcuffs on me and I asked him, am I being placed under arrest and they said yes. I was like in shock and I panicked ya know."

He was questioned by police and the FBI.

Disimo said, "They had given me the polygraph test and they said that I failed it and at that point, ya know, I was really like confused, shocked, scared, definitely scared because I had never been arrested before."

Disimo was taken to the Allegheny County Jail and held on $50,000 bond. Money he didn't have.

"I flipped out and basically had a breakdown. They had put me on a suicide watch." Disimo said.

While Disimo sat in jail for two months he missed his son's birthday and lost his job Finally, at his preliminary hearing the teller took back her positive id.

It turned out the real bank robber was Thomas Charlier of Castle Shannon. Charlier confessed to 16 bank robberies in all.

Disimo sued the bank and the teller, but his case was dismissed.

Noted civil rights attorney Timothy O’Brien did not represent Disimo.

He said "Under state law there is no claim as it presently stands for simply negligent conduct.

There are many states that do have a cause of action claim that a citizen can make for the negligent prosecution or arrest. But that is not the case in Pennsylvania."

Attorney John Rago of the Duquesne University Law School is chairman of Pennsylvania's new advisory committee on wrongful convictions.

Rago said, "In the U.S. right now there are 213 post conviction DNA exonerations and in more than three quarters of those cases eyewitness failure appears to have been a significant contributing factor to that wrongful conviction."

Disimo said, "You better hope to god you can prove you're innocent."

A spokesperson for National City said the teller performed in accordance with the bank's procedures.

She declined to answer questions.

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