Insurance costs could be reason for temporary police force suspension in Kulpmont
KULPMONT - A rising insurance premium could be the reason for temporary suspension of the borough police force.
Chief Rick Wilson acknowledged after an executive session Wednesday night the decision involved an "insurance issue." He wouldn't say anything further, and no council members commented Thursday.
But it's believed the borough may have been forced to find a new police liability insurance policy that is costing much more than its previous one, with a premium rising from approximately $2,000 to as much as $25,000, along with a higher deductible.
The rising insurance costs could be related to the recent settlement of a civil rights lawsuit against the borough and Wilson over the treatment of a female the chief took into custody. Testimony during a hearing in the criminal case also brought to light several past employment issues for Wilson.
The chief said he was notified early Wednesday that the department was to shut down at 4 p.m. Council members then gathered for a nearly two-hour executive session that night. Solicitor William Cole would only say it involved a personnel issue. Wilson and two union representatives were part of the meeting.
Suspension of the force leaves Wilson, the borough's only full-time officer, and several part-time officers out of jobs. Kulpmont Mayor Myron Turlis did not return two calls Thursday to find out how many officers are affected and how many manhours of police patrol would be lost.
The borough did not have 24-hour police protection, but did cover a majority of hours. The borough relied on state police from Stonington to cover off-hours.
State police have been notified about the temporary suspension, council President Bruno Varano said Wednesday.
John Shimock, owner of Shimock's Furniture, likely the borough's largest business, said Thursday he hopes the change is temporary.
"There's no excuse not to have police coverage," he said. "I know a lot of the borough council members and they are quality people. I hope they will find a way to rectify the problem and get officers back on the street."
Hearing the news about borough police officers not being on duty shocked Jordyn Shustack, of Scott Street.
"Looks like I'll be staying inside a little bit more," she said Thursday. "That makes me feel somewhat unsafe."
Despite the state police coverage, Shustack believes the difference will be noticeable.
"Anytime we walked around, we would see a police officer on duty," she said. "I hope they will be able to bring them back."
In March 2012, Cheryll Hornberger, a resident of Chestnut Street, sued Wilson, both personally and in his capacity as chief, Mayor Myron Turlis, current borough council members Varano, Clarence Deitrick and Philip Scicchitano, four past members, the police and the borough.
According to court filings, the chief allegedly tried to file a ticket against Hornberger for parking her vehicle on the wrong side of Chestnut Street on Jan. 25, 2011. While Wilson was leaving his vehicle to put the ticket on her windshield, Hornberger started to get in her car. She said Wilson pounded on her driver's side window when she tried to drive away. The chief tried to throw the ticket into her vehicle, the parking citation and his hand hitting the window before the ticket fell to the ground, the suit alleged.
Wilson then pulled Hornberger out of the vehicle and placed her under arrest for littering, pushing and shoving her against her car and porch, according to the lawsuit. Hornberger also claimed Wilson stated he needed to check her for weapons. He grabbed her breast and pulled up her shirt while bystanders watched from across the street, the suit claims.
Back at the station, Hornberger was shackled to a bench for 2 1/2 hours while Wilson allegedly verbally ridiculed her. She said she requested medical assistance, but Wilson wouldn't provide it. He cited her for violating the borough's parking ordinance, littering and disorderly conduct.
Hornberger was found not guilty, but she said she was cited again for parking in the same location and that the chief continued to harass her.
The case was settled out of court in November.
Wilson's testimony during Hornberger's summary hearing brought to light several past troubles with employment.
Under oath, Wilson admitted he was discharged from his job of 2 1/2 years as a state police dispatcher due to a sexual harassment complaint from a woman in 2007.
The testimony also revealed he was discharged from employment with Northumberland County as a telecommunicator III supervisor in March 2008 for identifying himself as a police officer while in the scope of county business, and failing to notify his supervisor after a complaint was lodged against him.
As a member of the Mount Carmel Township police force, Wilson was suspended in 2003 and resigned for reasons that were never publicly disclosed.
In August 2009, Wilson was suspended from his job at Kulpmont by then-Mayor Robert Slaby. Wilson called it political, saying Slaby retaliated for his revelation that the mayor had altered police department time sheets.
The suspension lasted for 47 days before council reinstated Wilson. Members said they found insufficient evidence to keep continue the suspension.