PITTSBURGH (AP) - A Pennsylvania police chief contends in a lawsuit he was wrongly fired for testifying truthfully against an underling who allegedly tried to keep another officer from charging a township commissioner in a road-rage incident.
Andrew Lisiecki, 56, was police chief in North Huntingdon Township, a suburb east of Pittsburgh, when four of seven township commissioners voted to fire him in September.
Lisiecki’s federal lawsuit filed Wednesday contends he was fired for testifying in hearings that led an arbitrator to uphold the firing of Officer William Sombo in March 2015. Sombo was allegedly allied with the commissioners Lisiecki is suing, but isn’t a defendant in the lawsuit.
“No employee, much less a chief of police who’s testifying about police abuse, should have their job jeopardized because they fear to tell the truth in a legal proceeding,” said Timothy O’Brien, Lisiecki’s attorney.
Lisiecki contends another officer, who was newly hired, arrested township Commissioner David Herold and charged him with disorderly conduct following a road-rage incident in October 2013. Sombo opposed the arrest and minutes after it happened removed Herold’s handcuffs, the suit contends. He later tried to convince the other officer not to charge Herold, the lawsuit says.
Herold then scolded the arresting officer saying, “Don’t you know who I am? I don’t know who you think you are, but I am a commissioner you simpleminded fool,” according to arbitration hearing testimony referenced in Lisiecki’s lawsuit. The Westmoreland County district attorney recommended citing Herold for disorderly conduct before he was acquitted by a local magistrate.
Sombo challenged his firing for that incident, which required Lisiecki to testify at four arbitration hearings in October and November 2014.
Sombo, Herold and the other defendants claimed Lisiecki orchestrated the filing of the allegedly false charge against Herold in the road-rage incident. Lisiecki said that when the newly hired officer arrived to control the situation, everybody else involved calmed down except Herold, who threatened to beat up the other motorist. When Herold resisted arrest, the officer used a leg sweep to take down Herold, Lisiecki said.
Once a new political majority aligned with Herold was elected to the board of commissioners in November 2015, they began falsely accusing Lisiecki of lying, not doing his job and claiming publicly that Lisiecki was incompetent, the lawsuit says. Before he was hired in North Huntingdon, Lisiecki spent three years as police chief in the Pittsburgh suburb of Green Tree and 25 years with the Pittsburgh police, where he rose to lieutenant.
The commissioners also hired independent investigators to review Lisiecki’s handling of Herold’s arrest, but they found Lisiecki did nothing wrong, the lawsuit said.
Lisiecki said he’s applied for 22 jobs since he was fired and received just one response, saying the firing has created a “negative stigma.” He’s seeking unspecified damages.
Herold and the other commissioners being sued - Darryl Bertani, Michael Faccenda Jr. and Tony Martino - didn’t immediately comment after they were emailed a copy of the lawsuit. Bruce Dice, the township solicitor, also didn’t immediately comment.
Sombo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on his alleged conduct regarding Herold’s arrest.
The arbitrator who upheld Sombo’s firing, Ronald Talarico, wrote that Sombo “unfortunately has a severe inability to testify truthfully.”
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