Original Document
Original Document
John P. Guyer, from "Pennsylvania's Cossacks and the State's Police," 1923.



The Pinchot Police Commission conducted the second inquiry to be made into charges of abuse of authority and employment of vicious methods by the state police. The first was made through the medium of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor at the instigation of President James H. Maurer, about ten years ago. The findings of that inquiry were published by the federation and have had wide circulation throughout the country, so much that the last issue is exhausted. The methods of terrorism and abuse described in the present publication are strikingly similar to those employed during the early days of the constabulary's history. Perhaps a bit more violent and cruel, in some particulars, yet the general character of incidents is about on a par with the past performance of the vicious element of the force.
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For years, almost since its creation, the Pennsylvania State Police force has been praised by state officials, employers of labor and the press as one of the greatest organizations of policemen in the country. Every action in which its members have taken part has been given publicity of a favorable kind. Arrests of lawbreakers were described and always commended. Feats of horsemanship have been portrayed in story and picture along with their work in capturing criminals and halting lawlessness. But in particular has the press sounded their praise when they appeared in the role of breakers of strikes.

There is another side to the story. A sordid one, but true. It has never been completely written, save in the hearts of humble men and women whose heads and bodies have suffered from the clubs and hands of its vicious element whose actions have degraded and disgraced the state's power in the minds of the workers and humane-minded men and women. It is the story of cruel, and many times, unmerited, clubbing of men and even women and children. Clubbings by irresponsibles, usually, who crept into the force for an adventure. But frequently it was the deliberate action of brutal, drunken or depraved characters who have systematically used bloody force in executing orders of their superiors. It is a story of tortures that savor of the acts of the Inquisition when brutalities were the rule. Men–held merely as witnesses–have been so cruelly treated that they signed fake confessions or suicided to end their agony. Still others have been persecuted for weeks as the Cossacks of the force sought to vent their anger at the victim's resentment of their studied oppression and sustained ill-treatment. Prisons still hold men whose friends claim have been convicted through illegal means.

The greater number of stories secured by the Pinchot Police Commission will deal with the actions of the present force during the last great coal strike; This, for the reason that it is now subject to the orders of a governor who is humane and who knows, first-hand, of abuses of authority which have turned the power of the state's police into a force of experts in brutalizing defenseless citizens of humble means and small education and who are without means to secure redress. It is the desire of the writer to not only clean up the force of its undesirables and change its methods, but to protect the decent men in the ranks and thereby help them win respect of the citizens generally and especially of those who, foreign-born and usually without influence, see this country's government only through eyes which have come face to face with its police force.

These efficient, humane policemen are known to the humble folk of the communities they have served and they may always be known by their orderly, yet effective, conduct in times of strife or excitement. For them the writer has the kindliest regard and it is his aim to not only raise the standard of personnel to meet that which they maintain, but to point out to the Governor and Legislature of this state the necessity for raising wages of the rank and file to such a figure that these normal men may be permitted to maintain homes and families and live the lives of the average citizen. So that they will have assurance not only of a living wage, but a saving wage that will give a comfortable future. A wage that will bring men of character and ability into the force to supplement those who will remain after the purging that is due has been accomplished....

A hold-up poker game at Tide, Indiana County, Pa., by three men, brought the state policemen' down. As they searched a house for suspects, Policeman Andrew Zap was shot as he started towards an outbuilding while on the hunt. His assailant escaped, at the time. Two days later, Antonia Porto was arrested in Johnstown, Cambria County, and charged with the killing.

The lawful method of procedure when a suspect is arrested, is to take him before a justice of the peace, if charged with a minor offense. If charged with a major crime, then he is jailed, but access to him is granted friends, or at least his attorney, so that his rights may be safeguarded.

Porto was tried in Indiana County after his arrest, which followed the shooting on April 28, 1918. His trial developed these facts, which he confirmed in statement made to members of the Pinchot Police Commission who visited him in the Western Penitentiary at Pittsburgh:

Arrested in Johnstown, Porto was hurried to Greensburg instead of to the Indiana county jail, as legal procedure requires. He was taken to the State Police barracks, which stands isolated on a hill on the outskirts of the town, with hundreds of feet of open field between the barracks and any other house.

Policemen took him to the basement, where he was tied to a furnace steam pipe and the steam turned on. He was held there until he was almost roasted. He was repeatedly kicked in the legs and body and beaten about the head, face and ribs. All the time he was urged to confess. He refused.

Then one policeman suggested the "Spanish water cure" for stubbornness. Porto was laid on his back. A funnel was placed in his mouth and he was forced to drink until his stomach was filled. Then his bowels were filled with water.

Policemen then kicked him. One jumped on him. Porto fainted. His clothing was pulled from his body and lighted cigar and cigarette stumps were pressed against his flesh until he opened his eyes and begged to be killed.

Captain William Clark, now of Troop E, and who was then a lieutenant of Troop A, at Greensburg, and Trooper Psevanto, now located at Wilkes-Barre, know details of the method practiced upon Porto according to evidence submitted to the commission.
Although evidence presented to the Indiana jury against Porto warranted a first degree verdict, yet the jurors, when they had seen his scars from the burnings and heard his story of torture, returned a verdict of second degree murder.

ATTORNEY JAMES GLEASON, of DuBois, Pa., illustrated methods employed by state police in handling matters affecting workers, by reciting incidents that developed during a trial of three men accused of dynamiting a house at Vallier two years before the last strike-1922.

Men operating mines at Vallier got injunctions against miners. Jim Brown, Italian, of Vallier, was principal witness in securing the injunction. His home was dynamited and Brown killed. Three men were arrested. One in Philadelphia, as he was about to board ship. But it was proven he had engaged passage two months before the dynamiting and BEFORE THE INJUNCTION CASES. Two state policemen, while bringing him back to Indiana, were accused of beating the man in a Pullman drawing room until his mouth bled, in an effort to make him confess.

The other two were arrested in Punxsutawny. They were jailed, without being allowed to talk with friends or attorneys. They were given no hearing, but were shifted to the Indiana jail, then to Greensburg barracks of the state police, where they were subjected to the third degree, the police putting one in what they termed was an electric chair, then suddenly turning on a light of great candle power, after wrapping a wire about the man's wrist. (Herbert Marsh, Troop A, now working for Bower Lumber Co., at Vallier, knows details).

The men were shipped about from Jefferson county to Indiana and to Westmoreland county without authority, the warrant reading that their bodies be delivered to the sheriff of Jefferson county.

Guiseppi Dano was the man arrested in Philadelphia. The Molecci brothers were arrested in Punxsutawny. Dano was kept in the Indiana county jail by Doux, now county detective of Butler County, of Troop D, and Marsh of Troop A, and then the three men were taken to Greensburg. The real mission to Greensburg was to photograph and fingerprint the suspects, a system newly initiated by the police for men NOT YET TRIED for alleged crimes. Tony Molacci was the man given the "electric chair" degree, the police asking him "Where do you want your body sent?" He told them, "To my mother in Italy." They strapped him to the chair, made all preparations for an apparent electrocution, then turned on a slight current to shock the man.

Credit: John P. Guyer, "Pennsylvania's Cossacks and the State's Police," Reading, Pa., 1923.
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