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Reno official accused of witness tampering

RENO — An attorney for a woman suing a Nevada police department over a former officer’s conduct has asked a federal judge to stop what the lawyer says is witness tampering by the Reno city attorney’s office.

Court papers filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court contend a deputy city attorney sent an e-mail to officers warning them against speaking about the civil lawsuit to attorney Scott Freeman, The Reno Gazette-Journal reported.

Freeman represents a woman who claims she was forced by former Reno Sgt. Paul Pitsnogle to undress while in the back of his police car during a 2006 traffic stop.

The woman was 17 at the time. She is suing the city, the police and Pitsnogle in federal court claiming the officer had falsely arrested her, causing emotional distress. The woman also claims the department failed to adequately train, supervise and control its employees.

In court papers, Freeman contends the e-mail sent by Deputy City Attorney Jack Campbell is an attempt to prevent the woman from receiving a fair trial. Campbell sent the Feb. 11 e-mail to all of the department’s sworn deputies. It warns that Freeman is trying to use the officers “against the department” and cautions “don’t let them,” court papers show.

Freeman acknowledges that he’s hired former Reno detective Adam Wygnanski as a consultant on the case and that Wygnanski has spoken with his friends at the department about the case. None of those contacted are management-level employees, Freeman said.

Freeman also holds that over the course of his investigation, it had become “increasingly clear that there was widespread knowledge within the Reno Police Department that Sgt. Pitsnogle was a ‘wild card,’ whom the administration failed to properly supervise.

Freeman wants a judge to order the officers interviewed or to delay a trial set for Feb. 28.

It’s not clear when the judge will rule on the matter.

In 2009, a jury acquitted Pitsnogle of criminal charges stemming from the incident, although he was fired from his job after an internal affairs investigation found that he had violated numerous department policies.

He appealed, but on Feb. 1 an arbitrator upheld the dismissal.

Earlier in the week, Campbell also filed an emergency motion saying Freeman should be disqualified for holding “clandestine” meetings with currently employed and retired Reno Police Department officers without the city’s consent.

In a response, Freeman argued the courts have rejected “blanket restrictions” on such contacts and that the purpose of the rule was to “protect the attorney-client relationship, not to protect an organization from the discovery of adverse facts,” Freeman said.

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