Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Ex-deputy sheriff convicted of hitting suspect, perjury

Sgt. Gary Browndorf was cleared of five other charges in a ruling his lawyer called "disappointing" and "confusing."

Ex-deputy sheriff convicted of hitting suspect, perjury

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Gary Browndorf leaves courtroom after Friday's verdict. (Bill Reed/Staff)

A former Bucks County sheriff’s deputy was found guilty Friday of hitting a handcuffed suspect and lying about it in an arrest and cover up that also cost three fellow officers their jobs.

The jury of seven men and five women determined that Sgt. Gary Browndorf hit Philip Romanek, 29, while serving an arrest warrant on July 26, and lied about being kicked by the Levittown man.

But the jury found Browndorf not guilty of five counts of falsely imprisoning Romanek and falsely accusing him at his preliminary hearing.

Friends and relatives of both Browndorf and Romanek cried as the jurors were polled. Minutes later outside the courtroom, a Browndorf supporter yelled, “You’ll get your day; rest in Hell,” as Romanek hurried by.

The split verdict may mean the jury believed neither Browndorf nor Romanek and his girlfriend, Assistant District Attorney Robert James said.

“They believed the former deputies” who testified against Browndorf, James said. “They clearly believed that Romanek was assaulted, and they clearly believed that Browndorf lied about it.”

Defense lawyer Nino Tinari called the verdict “disappointing” and “confusing.”

“Usually, with the perjury verdict, all the other rulings fall into place,” Tinari said while arranging for a $50,000 cash bond to keep Browndorf out of prison. “Apparently, they had difficulty determining the remaining charges.”

The ruling “hurts everyone involved in law enforcement,” county Sheriff Edward “Duke” Donnelly said. “People look at us with jaundiced eyes.”

The assault is less serious than the perjury conviction, James said, carrying a sentence of probation to seven years, since Browndorf does not have a prior record. He faces a maximum of two years for the assault, based on sentencing guidelines.

Sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 19.

County detectives first looked into Browndorf’s conduct after receiving a complaint from the mother of Romanek’s girlfriend, Samantha Doneker, 36, of Bristol Township. The case was turned over to a county grand jury, which found that aggravated assault charges Browndorf filed against the couple and his testimony at a preliminary hearing were false.

According to testimony this week and court documents, the deputies went to Doneker’s apartment to serve a warrant to Romanek for a parole violation on a DUI conviction. Doneker denied Romanek was there, but Deputy Daniel Boyle found him in the attic.

Boyle handcuffed Romanek behind his back and lowered him through a hole in a closet ceiling to Deputies James McAndrew and William Klein.

“Boyle testified that Romanek was 100 percent cooperative and did not resist arrest,” James said.

Browndorf said that Romanek kicked him as he was being lowered, and that Doneker hit him. But McAndrews and Klein testified that they did not see any kick and were the only officers in the closet.

After the arrest, Browndorf filed aggravated assault charges against Romanek and Doneker, and each was held in Bucks County Prison for several days on $100,000 bail.

In September, Browndorf was suspended pending an investigation, and he was later fired, Donnelly said.

And in February, McAndrews, Klein and Cpl. Dave Prudish were fired for failing to report the assault.

“I hope this ruling sends a message that when something happens, report it,” the sheriff said, “not that we want it to ever happen again.
“There are no winners in these cases.”

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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