A Common Pleas judge was wrong to ban a man from a Pittsburgh-area borough after convicting the man of threatening the municipality's police chief and mayor in phone and computer messages, a state appeals court ruled.
Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani banned Thomas McPherson, 55, from Millvale as part of a two-year probation sentence imposed last year after the judge convicted McPherson of terroristic threats, harassment and marijuana possession following a non-jury trial.
"Although (McPherson's) actions caused alarm, concern or fear in his victims, his convictions were based on the acts of sending threatening emails and voice messages," the court said in an 18-page opinion first reported Monday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "This conduct would not be curtailed by a ban from town."
Rather, the judge's order that McPherson not contact the chief or mayor was sufficient to discourage similar threats in the future, the appeals court ruled.
"It's just an example of judicial overreaching," defense attorney Ryan Tutera said of the ban overturned in the Oct. 6 appeals court ruling. Tutera wouldn't say whether he planned to appeal the conviction and the rest of Mariani's sentence, which were upheld by the appeal court, because he hasn't discussed that with his client.
McPherson's conviction and sentencing marked the climax of a long-running feud he had with borough officials.
McPherson ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and was charged with threatening a black man with a weapon when the man moved into a neighboring house in 2006. Although McPherson, who is white, was ordered to stand trial, he said he felt threatened during a confrontation with the black man and his friends, and authorities eventually dropped the charges.
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Judge Mariani banned McPherson from the borough to protect Millvale Mayor Vince Cinski and police Chief Derek Miller after determining McPherson — who had since moved to Gibsonia, several miles away — threatened them in phone messages in 2010 and 2012. McPherson was allegedly upset about his son being charged and convicted of a racially motivated stabbing in 2010.
"I don't know if it is legal to ban him from a community," Mariani said in court, according to the Superior Court opinion. "Is it legal?"
"I don't think so, Your Honor," Tutera said then.
"I don't think it is either, but I think I'm going to do it anyway," the judge said, citing the case's "unique circumstances."
Among other things, Mariani noted that the mayor had begun carrying a gun because he was afraid of McPherson, and after McPherson told the judge he had no "compelling" need "to go to or live in Millvale" which is located along Route 28, a couple of miles northeast of the Pittsburgh city limits.
In his appeal, McPherson argued he was a painter with clients in Millvale and regularly had to use Route 28, a busy state highway that runs through the borough, to get to and from his home and other locations.