‘I’m thankful and grateful:’ Harrisburg district judge accused of interfering with police investigation acquitted of all charges

HARRISBURG—In all of his years on the bench, and overseeing hundreds of jury trials, Senior Judge Stephen B. Lieberman said Tuesday that he had never granted a judgement of acquittal for a defendant.

But after hearing the evidence presented against Harrisburg Magisterial District Judge Sonya McKnight, that changed today. Lieberman, who was brought in from Berks County to hear the case, acquitted McKnight of all charges before they even went to the jury.

McKnight had been facing charges of tampering with evidence, official oppression and obstruction of law after Harrisburg police say she showed up at the traffic stop and drug-related arrest of her son, Kevin Baltimore. It was during this stop that authorities say she entered his car without the permission of the police and removed a pill bottle.

After prosecutors with the state attorney general’s office rested their case Tuesday morning, McKnight’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, argued that they did not show enough evidence against his client, and she did nothing wrong.

The judge acquitted her of all charges, and McKnight stepped out onto the Dauphin County Courthouse steps to a group of cheering supporters.

“I feel great. God is good. I’m thankful and grateful,” she said smiling, waving and hugging her attorney. “I’m grateful to God on this day for believing in me and knowing that I did nothing wrong.”

McKnight said she is ready to return to the bench. While she had been suspended pending the outcome of the case, she still won her bid for re-election in the May primary.

“I thank God for my community believing in me and saying ‘you know what, she deserves this seat,’” she said.

McMonagle added, “This is one of those rare occasions where I’ve had an innocent client from the day I met her.”

He added that today’s ruling “restored my faith in the justice system when a good person like this is given the opportunity to receive a fair trial in front of a fair judge and be vindicated.”

Trial started Monday with prosecutors arguing that McKnight used her official position as a judge to intimidate Harrisburg police officers and interfere with their investigation as they placed her son under arrest during a traffic stop on Feb. 22, 2020.

Officer Farida Kingsboro testified that McKnight showed up at the scene in an agitated manner. Kingsboro said she felt intimated by McKnight, a judge who often presided over the cases police officers brought before her. She felt further intimidated when McKnight asked if the officer’s boss, police Commissioner Thomas Carter, was working that night, testimony indicates.

Kingsboro further testified that she got into Baltimore’s car during a search and found a pill bottle.

McKnight took the pill bottle, containing her son’s blood-pressure medication, according to testimony. While Kingsboro testified that the pill bottle was still part of a drug investigation, McMonagle argued the evidence shows that Kingsboro told McKnight she could take her son’s car, and when she took the pill bottle inside the car, she did so in full few of four police officers.

Further, McMonagle pointed out that a dash-cam video contradicts Kingsboro’s testimony. Though the video had no audio, McMonagle argued that is showed McKnight was calm in her interactions with the police and not agitated. The video also did not show Kingsboro getting into Baltimore’s car, where she said she found the pill bottle.

Further testimony Tuesday morning came from Commissioner Carter, who told the jury that he was woken up by a phone call around 2 a.m. from McKnight, telling him her son had called her to say that he had been stopped by the police.

Carter and McKnight had known each other for a long time, so he advised her not to go to the scene. But if she did go, “I said ‘Sonya, listen, don’t go there as a magisterial district judge. Go as a concerned parent,’” Carter testified. “My concern was she’s in public office, and I didn’t want anything to turn out bad for her.”

McKnight called Carter the next morning and said the officers were polite to her and allowed her to take her son’s car and a bottle of prescription medication, according to testimony.

When McMonagle asked Carter if he thought McKnight had done anything wrong, Carter replied, “No.”

But his officers believed she did as they reported the incident to their supervisor, who works under Carter. Due to potential conflicts of interest, the case was referred to the state attorney general’s office for potential investigation, which lead to charges being filed.

But after a day and a half of testimony, McMonagle argued there was not enough evidence for any of the three charges to go before a jury, and his client did nothing wrong.

The judge agreed.