Judge to review bond set for suspect in K-9 slaying

Man accused of fatally stabbing K-9 held on $1M


PITTSBURGH — The district judge who set a $1 million bond for the man accused of killing a Pittsburgh police dog last week said that he set the amount that high — at least in part — because he considers the victim, Rocco, a German shepherd, to be a police officer.

Whether that amount will stand is in question, as Allegheny County President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning has scheduled a bond hearing for John L. Rush today.

District Judge James Motznik, who presided over Rush’s arraignment, said on Monday that several factors went into his decision.

“In this case, he ended up killing a police officer, which was a K-9,” Judge Motznik said. “To me, it’s a member of the public safety department — whether it’s a firefighter, a paramedic, or a police officer.

“This police officer happened to be a K-9.”

Among other considerations, Judge Motznik said, was the defendant’s background.

Rush, 21, was wanted on several outstanding warrants, including for his alleged participation in a violent home invasion and his failure to register as a sex offender.

Bond should be high, Judge Motznik said, if the defendant is a threat to himself or others.

“He posed a threat to everyone around him,” he said of Rush. “He’s better off in the jail.”

Judge Motznik also questioned what Rush might have done to an average citizen if he behaved the way he did toward Rocco and several police officers involved in his arrest.

An Allegheny County sheriff’s deputy saw Rush last Tuesday night walking on Butler Street in Lawrenceville and tried to stop him, recognizing that he was wanted on outstanding warrants.

Rush lunged at the deputy and was able to get away.

But 40 minutes later, Pittsburgh Officer Philip Lerza and his K-9, Rocco, responded to a call for a suspicious man in the basement of a home in the 3700 block of Butler Street.

After the man failed to respond to repeated warnings, Rocco was sent in for him.

According to the complaint, Rush “lunged out from near a pillar and attacked K-9 Rocco,” swinging the knife wildly.

Rush then punched Officer Daniel Nowak and hit Officer John Baker in the head several times, police said.

Officer Lerza also sustained a puncture wound to the back.

Rocco died on Thursday as a result of his injuries.

Judge Motznik noted that Rush has had repeated trouble with the law and multiple occasions where he failed to appear in court.

Bond in a criminal case is designed to ensure that a defendant is not a flight risk or a danger to the community.

Realistically, a bond set at $1 million, said John Burkoff, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, is the same as denying bond.

“Bail is supposed to be used strictly to ensure that the accused shows up for judicial proceedings,” Mr. Burkoff said. “Bail of $1 million is unusually high, even in a homicide case. Effectively, for most people, it’s the equivalent of no bail at all because most people can’t arrange for that kind of bond.”

Mr. Burkoff also said he would expect that the amount would be lowered.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Paula Reed Ward is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Paula Reed Ward at: 412-263-2620 or pward@post-gazette.com.