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Trial of Magisterial District Judge Sonya McKnight begins in Dauphin County court

McKnight is accused of using her position to interfere with police during a Feb. 2020 traffic stop involving her son in Harrisburg.
Credit: Harri Leigh/FOX43

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The trial of a Dauphin County Magisterial District Judge accused of interfering with police during a traffic stop involving her son in February 2020 began Monday in Dauphin County Court.

Magisterial District Judge Sonya McKnight is charged with official oppression, tampering with evidence and obstruction of law.

She is accused of using her position to interfere with a traffic stop involving her son, Kevin Baltimore, who was pulled over by police in Harrisburg on the night of Feb. 22, 2020. 

During the traffic stop, McKnight allegedly arrived on the scene after being called there by her son. She immediately began questioning the officers about why her son had been stopped and became "agitated" when police began searching him, according to a criminal complaint filed against her by investigators with the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General.

When told the registration on Baltimore's vehicle was expired, McKnight allegedly argued that she had paid for his registration, according to investigators.

She also allegedly asked the officers "if Commissioner Carter was working," referring to Harrisburg Police Commissioner Thomas Carter. 

A search warrant for McKnight's phone records later revealed McKnight had called Carter at 2:33 a.m., prior to her arrival on the scene of the traffic stop, according to investigators. Carter later confirmed he had received a call from McKnight.

Therefore, investigators claim, McKnight knew Carter was not working at the time of the traffic stop, and her question to the officers "was intended to intimidate or influence (them)." 

McKnight also allegedly entered Baltimore's vehicle without permission and removed a bottle of pills one of the officers had discovered and set aside to examine later, investigators claim. Baltimore and McKnight claimed the pills were for Baltimore's high blood pressure. But by taking the bottle, McKnight ensured police did not have the chance to open it and examine its contents, the complaint states.

McKnight was formally charged on Dec. 16, 2020 by the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. She was barred from sitting on the bench one day later, but won her re-election bid in the May primary.

This is the second time in her career that McKnight has been on administrative leave. In 2019, she was placed on voluntary paid leave during the investigation of a shooting that occurred at a home that tax records show she owned in Harrisburg. 

The victim in the shooting was reportedly McKnight's estranged husband, reports at the time said.

No charges were filed in the case, according to the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, which presided over the investigation. No explanation was provided at the time.

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