What should be the fate of 1,790 items seized from former Mayor Steve Reed?
A judge began grappling with that question today, as the commonwealth and Reed’s attorneys argued over matters of rightful ownership and proper return.
In February, Reed pleaded guilty to 20 counts of theft-related charges. Now that that case is settled, he’s asking the state to return artifacts, memorabilia and city documents seized during the criminal investigation.
Reed’s lawyer Allen Welch insisted that these items should be returned to Reed, while state Deputy Attorney General Danielle Graham said that the former mayor needs to prove ownership.
In a Thursday review hearing, Judge Kevin Hess began to deal with the legal arguments for returning the items to the rightful party.
“The issue is who has the burden of proving what, when items are seized in relation to an investigation but aren’t connected to illegal activity,” Hess said.
Hess moved to schedule a civil trial this summer to determine the ownership of the artifacts.
The state possesses 150 items subjected to criminal prosecution and about 1,600 items seized under a grand jury indictment that were not subjected to criminal prosecution, Graham said. The state cannot return the 1,600 items that were not subject to criminal investigation because “when [they were] seized, it was in connection of an investigation,” she said.
Saying “they’re mine” should be enough to return the items to Reed, Welch said.
“They should be returned immediately,” he said. “The commonwealth has no basis to [keep them].”
However, Graham said the state seeks “the production of credible evidence” that proves Reed owned the items.
Hess compared this situation to police officers seizing a television in addition to illegal drugs and guns in someone’s living room. The television set was seized as part of a criminal investigation, but the suspect didn’t prove ownership to have the television returned, he said.
To that, Graham said, “It’s nuanced.”
“The distinguishing factor is that this is significant memorabilia with a specific, unique purpose and high value,” she said.
The state has some receipts and “hand-written, somewhat illegible” documentation, Graham said. However, she questioned their authenticity and said her office had difficulty connecting the documents with the corresponding items. She requested the original documents to inspect their authenticity, she said.
Welch said Reed can prove he owns the items in question.
“We are prepared to present evidence to show when they were purchased by Stephen Reed, not the City of Harrisburg,” he said.
Hess suggested the process could be streamlined.
“If they establish ownership of 150, [it could] dispense the necessity of showing evidence of the rest of the 1,600,” he said.
The state possesses city documents such as mayoral notes and minutes from cabinet meetings, Deputy Attorney General Rebecca Franz said after the hearing. The state cannot return the documents to the city right now because Reed asserts that they are his items, she said.