In his first interview since he was charged with the slayings of three Pittsburgh police officers, Richard Poplawski complained about his accommodations at the Allegheny County Jail and described himself as mentally ill, but refused to talk about the April 4 crimes, for which prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
In a clear and steady voice, interrupted twice by automated warnings that the call could be monitored, Poplawski, 22, spoke for an allotted 15 minutes yesterday from the jail, where he is isolated from other inmates.
"We're not going to delve into the events of April 4 or anything like that," Poplawski said. Discussing the fatal shootings of Officers Paul J. Sciullo II, Stephen J. Mayhle, and Eric G. Kelly, he said, would go against the advice of his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Lisa G. Middleman.
"First and foremost, the reason I wanted to reach out here is because I want the community to know what an individual may be faced with if they find themselves faced with some serious charges," he said. "I want to improve my condition down here."
Poplawski faces 28 criminal charges in connection with the ambush, including three counts of homicide.
Police say he wore a bulletproof vest, armed himself with an AK-47 assault-style rifle, and waited for the officers to respond to his mother's request that he be removed from her home.
During the interview, Poplawski calmly offered glimpses into his imprisonment, saying he spent his days in "an observation cell with a very large front window that doesn't afford me any privacy."
"I've been locked in isolation 24-slash-7 underneath large light fixtures that never switch off," he said, which aggravates "issues with my circadian rhythms."
Poplawski's statements could not be verified. Jail Warden Damon Rustin declined to comment, citing an April gag order from Judge Jeffrey Manning and, since Poplawski is under medical supervision, medical privacy rules.
In an April interview before the gag order was imposed, Rustin said Poplawski was being kept in administrative custody - essentially solitary confinement - for 23 hours a day, taking showers and meals alone.
Since his incarceration, Poplawski said, "I have been denied a viable psychiatric treatment plan, I have been denied access to legal counsel, access to religious services, access to social services, access to privileges such as commissary and visitors, access to gym equipment, the library."
He was granted phone privileges on Wednesday, he said.
"This is all with my behavior being very good," he said.
Poplawski said he has "undergone psychological abuse, egregious verbal harassment, and humiliation since the beginning of my incarceration."
"I've had a [jail] captain tell me that he was going to pop a bottle of champagne off upon my lethal injection," Poplawski said.
Another guard, he said, called him "a piece of garbage" and said he hoped Poplawski wouldn't "make it" to his lethal injection; still another guard, he said, told him he would be raped in prison. However, Poplawski added, two guards "tasked with most regularly handling me are consummate professionals."
"I want to remind the Allegheny County Jail staff that I am unconvicted," Poplawski said. "I am to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. No man who is a sinner himself is worthy to judge me."