A Morrisville police corporal was so upset that the driver in front of him was moving slowly, prosecutors said Tuesday, that he ran the man’s license plate and made an anonymous, threatening phone call to him, saying he was going to destroy his property.
But Michael Pitcher’s attorney, Louis Busico, said that the corporal was acting with the safety of the community in mind and that the phone call was part of an investigation as he considered issuing the driver a citation. Why else, Busico asked, would a 12-year veteran officer sign into a law enforcement database using his personal login, knowing his activity would be recorded?
“If Michael Pitcher wanted to commit a crime, it would’ve been less incriminating for him to rent a billboard saying ‘I did it,’” Busico said Tuesday in Doylestown, as Pitcher’s bench trial opened on unlawful use of a computer, terroristic threats, and related offenses.
He urged Bucks County Judge Brian T. McGuffin to acquit Pitcher of all charges, saying the evidence presented by prosecutors doesn’t prove a crime.
Pitcher, 43, was charged in July 2019 by state prosecutors after Jerry Shanks, 66, reported the threatening phone call to police in Lower Makefield. The officer remained on administrative leave for nearly two years but was fired in June in a 5-3 vote by the Morrsiville Borough Council.
On Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Brian Zarallo told the judge Pitcher used his position as a law enforcement officer to bully Shanks, and took “calculated steps” to hide his identity in the process.
“This case, plain and simple, is about an abuse of power,” Zarallo said. “An abuse of power used for the self-satisfaction of basically sticking it to two members of the community that had the temerity to drive a Porsche in a manner that inconvenienced Mr. Pitcher.”
Shanks, testifying Tuesday, said he and his wife, Claire, were coming home from a trip to New Jersey on April 6, 2019, when a black Chevrolet SUV began “aggressively tailgating” his Porsche Cayman on River Road.
The SUV’s driver honked at him, came within a few feet of his bumper, and attempted to pass him on the narrow, two-lane road, Shanks said. The couple eventually turned off River Road, and the SUV drove by them without incident.
About 45 minutes later, after the couple arrived home, Shanks received a call from a number he didn’t recognize. A “very aggressive and threatening” voice on the other end knew both Shanks’ name and address, he said.
“You better have cameras, because I’m going to destroy your property, especially your Porsche,” Shanks said the voice told him before hanging up.
During the exchange, which lasted about 50 seconds, the caller never identified himself as a police officer nor said he was reaching out as part of an investigation, according to Shanks.
Disturbed, Shanks called 911 and spoke to an officer from the Lower Makefield Police. Detectives eventually traced the calls back to Pitcher’s cellphone, which he had attempted to obscure by using a “spoofing” app that generates random phone numbers, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest.
When questioned by detectives from the state Attorney General’s Office, Pitcher admitted to making the call but denied threatening Shanks, according to the affidavit. Pitcher characterized the conversation as a warning that the driver would “destroy their vehicle if they kept driving in such a manner.”