Lawsuit filed against chief
KULPMONT - A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court against the borough and its mayor, police chief, borough council and police department claims a resident had her civil rights violated when she was illegally arrested and searched on the streets of the borough in January 2011.
Cheryll Hornberger, of 611 Chestnut St., Kulpmont, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Williamsport, requesting a jury trial.
Named as defendants are Kulpmont Police Chief Richard L. Wilson III, both personally and in his official
capacity as borough police chief; Mayor Myron F. Turlis; borough council President Bruno Varano; council members Clarence H. Deitrick, Philip Scicchitano, Joseph Winhofer and James Wisloski; past council members Michael V. Fantanarosa and Raymond D. Kraynak Jr.; the borough, and the borough police department.
Wilson could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening. A Kulpmont police officer said Wilson was not on duty; messages left for the chief were not returned. Turlis said he knew nothing about the suit until The News-Item called him for comment.
In the suit, Hornberger accuses Wilson of pushing her against her car and porch and fondling and exposing her breasts when she was arrested Jan. 25, 2011, for littering after a parking ticket he wrote landed on the ground.
On that date, Hornberger's husband, David, parked his vehicle in front of their home to take the family's dogs to the veterinarian. Wilson, who was on patrol, parked his vehicle behind the empty Hornberger vehicle and began to write a parking ticket.
As Wilson began to exit his vehicle, Cheryll Hornberger entered hers. She alleges in the suit that Wilson began pounding on the driver's side front window when she tried to drive away. She placed the vehicle in park and Wilson tried to throw the ticket into her vehicle, his hand and the ticket hitting her window before the ticket fell on the ground.
The police chief then opened the driver's side door and pulled Hornberger out of the vehicle, saying she was under arrest for littering. She told Wilson she suffers from relapsing polychondritis, or inflamation of cartilage in the body, and had just undergone knee surgery and asked him to stop pushing her.
The suit alleges Wilson, before handcuffing Hornberger, stated he needed to check her for weapons, grabbed her breast and pulled up her shirt, exposing her breasts. The suit claims "six to 12 bystanders were watching from across the street and even more driving by."
She was taken into custody to the Kulpmont Police Station, where she was shackled to a bench. Hornberger said she refused to answer Wilson's questions.
"Defendant Wilson then verbally ridiculed (Hornberger), asking her if she understood English or was just stupid," the suit reads.
Fifteen minutes later, Hornberger requested medical assistance, but claimed Wilson said she didn't need any.
Wilson provided Hornberger with his version of the facts and requested that she agree, according to the suit. When she refused, Wilson threatened to detain her in county jail until the following week. She was cited for violating the borough's parking ordinance, disorderly conduct and littering. After spending 2 1/2 hours at the station, she was released and sought medical treatment for wrist and knee injuries.
In a preliminary hearing in April 2011, Hornberger was found not guilty of the citations, but following the hearing, Hornberger's vehicle, parked in the same spot that is was in January, was cited for another parking violation that was later dismissed.
Hornberger claims Wilson continued to harass her "by following her in and out of the jurisdiction, parking his vehicle behind her residence and repeatedly driving his patrol vehicle around her house," the suit reads.
The suit, prepared by Hornberger's attorney Timothy A.B. Reitz, of Muncy, claims Wilson targeted Hornberger because of her gender and because Wilson has a long history of abusive conduct toward women. Reitz included a list of Hornberger's civil rights allegedly violated by Wilson, including arresting her without proper authority, without probable cause and with malicious intent; utilizing excessive force; taking advantage of his official capacity; causing indecent conduct for the purpose of sexual desire, and restraining her to interfere substantially with her liberty.
Hornberger also alleges in the suit that before they hired Wilson, the mayor and borough council either knew or should have known Wilson had been fired from the Pennsylvania State Police for sexual harassment and that he had been fired from his position as Northumberland County dispatcher for pulling over two women and harassing them while impersonating a police officer.
The dismissals were confirmed by Wilson during cross-examination by attorney Vincent Rovito in Hornberger's April 25 hearing.
Hornberger also claimed the mayor and council members either knew or should have known that Wilson continued to harass males and females who complained to Kulpmont officials, both verbally and in writing; disregarded council's orders and forged signatures on federal grant documents.
Hornberger said she suffered "severe injuries and mental anguish," along with economic hardships. She said because of the incident with Wilson, she is unable to perform certain household services at home and enjoy life. She has been required to spend money on surgical and medical attention, hospitals, medical supplies, surgical appliances, therapeutic treatment and medicine and legal expenses, and is suing for wage loss and for future earnings.