Sunday, August 1, 2021

State College detective, state trooper named county Law Enforcement Officers of the Year

BELLEFONTE — A veteran detective whose investigation led to the arrest of an alleged serial rapist and a state trooper who has been involved in some of the county’s most serious cases in recent years were honored on July 13 as Centre County’s Law Enforcement Officers of the Year.

Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw presented the awards to State College Detective Stephen Bosak and Rockview state police Trooper Michael Brown during a ceremony at the courthouse in Bellefonte.

Instituted by District Attorney Bernie Cantorna in 2019, the award has been given to two officers each of the past three years. Following nominations submitted by the public and law enforcement community, a committee selected from among four final nominees. The other two nominees this year were State College Sgt. Martin Hanes and Penn State University Police Detective Andrew Stager, both of whom were recognized for their investigative work.

Bosak began his career with State College police in 1985 as an officer and became a detective in 1991.

“Steve is fair, he’s patient, he’s highly competent, and he calls it like it is,” McGraw said. “But the thing that I will always remember most about Steve is his relentlessness and his perseverance, the likes of which I have rarely seen.”

That perseverance, McGraw said, was displayed in Bosak’s dogged investigation of four rapes that occurred in State College between 2010 and 2017. All four women, each a Penn State student at the time, reported being raped by an unknown male late at night outdoors in the Highlands section of State College.

In 2018, Bosak, along with Detective Nicole Eckley, began painstaking genetic genealogy work. They used genealogical DNA databases to develop the suspect’s family tree, identify Jeffrey Fields, of Port Matilda, as the alleged perpetrator and obtain a warrant for Fields’ DNA sample, which matched that of the suspect. Fields was charged with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault last July and is awaiting trial.

“This was undoubtedly the finest piece of detective work I have seen in my career to date,” McGraw said.

Bosak said he is grateful the State College Police Department committed resources to let him pursue genetic genealogy investigations, which are complicated, expensive and time-consuming. He also expressed his gratitude to his colleagues in departments throughout the county.

“I am honored and humbled to be receiving this award this year,” he said. “I’m grateful to all the State College police officers past and present who I’ve worked with and had the honor to serve with. I want to acknowledge all the fine work of the officers in my department as well as other departments in the county. They are truly the best of the best and they serve the county with dedication and professionalism. … I want to thank them for their dedication and the sacrifices they make for all of us on a daily basis.”

State College Police Chief John Gardner lauded Bosak for his unwavering commitment and persistence throughout his decades on the job.

“Steve is dogged and determined like a pit bull that won’t let go when he works a case. He is relentless, but not overbearing,” Gardner said. “As an officer and detective, he is someone I would want on the case if one of my family members needed help. It’s extremely rare to find an officer with Steve’s years of service who still has the same passion and drive.”

Brown received multiple nominations, but McGraw said the most compelling was from the mother of a victim in a still pending child abuse case with a lengthy and complicated investigation.

“The victim’s mother nominated Trooper Brown because of his compassion, his diligence and his ability to communicate sensitive information to the family,” Mc-Graw said. “These are traits trooper Brown brings to all of his investigations.”

In 2017, Brown’s work assisting Spring Township police helped lead to the eventual conviction of Ardell Gross, of Pleasant Gap, for the murder of his uncle Richard Smalley. McGraw said Brown developed a rapport with Gross, leading to interviews that elicited crucial details about the case.

“Those interviews were instrumental to the commonwealth’s case at trial, a case that resulted in a first degree murder conviction,” McGraw said.

Among other cases, Brown’s detailed investigation of a drug delivery resulting in death following a heroin overdose led to a guilty plea and a 5-10 year prison sentence for a Bellefonte woman in 2019.

That same year, Brown led the investigation of a sexual assault of a minor by 33-year-old Brian Schreck in Centre Hall.

“He obtained evidence that corroborated key aspects of the victim’s statement and in the process also discovered that Schreck had long been providing drugs to minors in the area,” McGraw said.

Brown’s investigation led to a guilty plea by Schreck, who was sentenced to 6-15 years in state prison last year.

“They have in common a common feature of Trooper Brown’s cases: high victim impact of the crimes but with an excellent result that brings peace of mind and closure,” McGraw said.

State police Cpl. Tom Stock commended Brown for always being quick to respond and needing little direction.

“Listening to the radio, calls would come in, serious calls. I’d look out and before I got a word out Brownie would be up and he’d be like ‘We’re going, we got it,’” Stock said. “Him and other members of the crime unit, (I) never really had to tell them what to do. Any time something needed to be done they did it.”

Brown expressed his thanks to his family, state police colleagues and other law enforcement officers throughout the county.

“We would not get any work done if it wasn’t a team effort,” Brown said. “It’s not just us. It takes a whole team to make a case come together, including the DA’s office.”