Fired Lansdale Cop Reinstated, Borough Appeals
George Johnson was fired by Lansdale Borough in June 2010 for failing to appear at a preliminary hearing and for allegedly lying during Loudermill hearings with borough police. On Jan. 3, a Montgomery County judge reversed his termination
A Lansdale Borough Police officer fired in June 2010 for failing to appear at a preliminary hearing — and allegedly lying during Loudermill hearings with borough police officials and administrators as to why he missed the hearing — had his job reinstated by a Montgomery County Common Pleas Court judge in January.
However, a recent Lansdale Borough Council appeal to the court order will keep him from donning the uniform due to "automatic supersedence."
George Johnson, a 12-year veteran with Lansdale Borough Police, was terminated from his position on June 18, 2010 by the Lansdale Borough Civil Service Commission and Lansdale Borough Council, according to court records.
The commission ruled in 2010 that the borough established sufficient evidence of only three of four charges brought against Johnson. These charges violated the code of the Borough of Lansdale.
The January 3, 2013 order of Montgomery County Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Tornetta Carluccio affirmed the Lansdale Civil Service Commission's ruling of October 28, 2010 of two of the four charges, according to court records.
However, Carluccio ordered that the commission's ruling on the other two charges are reversed and vacated, due to a lack of substantial evidence, according to the civil action lawsuit.
Furthermore, Carluccio ordered that Johnson is reinstated as an officer with the borough, but only after serving a 30-day suspension for failure to appear at a required preliminary hearing, according to the lawsuit.
Johnson should have donned the Lansdale Borough Police uniform again on Feb. 2, 2013, as the suspension began on Jan. 3.
However, on Jan. 16, Lansdale Borough Council, following an executive session, voted 7-0-1 to appoint Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC to represent Lansdale Borough and the borough Civil Service Commission in its appeal. The vote also ordered Eckert Seamans to "take all necessary steps to appeal the decision of the Court of Common Pleas in Montgomery County" and "take further action as necessary in support of the appeal."
All council members — with the exception of Jason Van Dame and Mike Sobel — voted unanimously on the motion. Sobel recused himself from the vote as a member of the borough Civil Service Commission. Van Dame was appointed to council to fill a vacancy, which occurred after the vote.
Borough Solicitor Mark Hosterman said that, because of the borough's appeal, the county common pleas court order is automatically superseded.
"The borough feels they had grounds for termination, they still feel they have grounds for termination, and therefore he shouldn't be reinstated. It's that simple," said Hosterman.
If this pattern continues, then there is a chance the civil case could make its way to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
"They can pick and choose what they want to hear," Hosterman advised.
The Case of George Johnson vs. Lansdale Borough and Lansdale Borough Civil Service Commission
Johnson admitted in court documents that he failed to appear at a May 18, 2010 preliminary hearing in Lansdale District Court, where he was to represent the Commonwealth in a DUI case. Johnson conducted a field sobriety test and "could testify to the intoxication of the defendant while behind the wheel as she transported her child to daycare," according to court records. The case was dismissed.
According to court records, Johnson forgot about the hearing for two reasons: he was severely ill with a chronic sinus infection and his mind was distracted over the well-being of his young son, who was recently attacked by a pit bull in Montgomery Township.
According to court records, Chief Robert McDyre recommended Johnson for termination to Lansdale Borough Council because "it was revealed you were untruthful as to the reason you failed to attend the hearing."
Johnson claims he informed District Judge Harold Borek that he missed the hearing because he was ill, according to court records. Johnson did not reveal the issues with his son, as he deemed them too "personal," according to court records.
The borough deemed Johnson "made false statements" to the court for the reason why he missed the hearing, court documents state. Furthermore, the borough deemed Johnson lied in a letter to a Montgomery County assistant district attorney, in which he allegedly lied as to the reason for missing the hearing.
Johnson also requested "re-arrest" permission of the defendant in the DUI case, according to court records.
In court records, Lansdale Borough painted Johnson as a repeat offender — it claims May 18, 2010 was Johnson's fourth occurrence in which he allegedly failed to appear at court when subpoenaed. All in all, the borough alleges Johnson missed eight hearings on four separate occasions, according to court records.
Johnson filed an appeal of his termination on June 23, 2010, represented by Trappe attorney Blake Dunbar, according to court records. Three hearings were held on July 19, July 26 and August 17, 2010.
In his appeal, Johnson claims the Civil Service Commission "abused its discretion, committed errors of law, and was arbitrary and capricious," according to the document.
"It's decisions on all but one of the charges were not supported by clear and convincing evidence," the appeal states.
The Lansdale Civil Service Commission found that Lansdale Borough failed to prove the allegation that Johnson had been untruthful as to the reasons given for missing the hearing, according to Johnson's initial appeal.
The borough claims Johnson first told McDyre and Sgt. Alex Kromdyk that he forgot the hearing because he was "shaken" due to the incident involving his child. Then, when asked whether he received adequate notice of the hearing, Johnson allegedly responded that he had been made aware of the hearing, but missed it because he confused it with a hearing later in the month.
The third alleged contradictory statement was he missed the hearing because he was sick, according to court records.
While it was not established by the borough, according to Johnson's appeal, the civil service commission "abused its discretion" in stating Johnson allegedly provided three "somewhat contradictory reasons" why he missed the hearing.
“To the contrary, this is a true statement about a factor which contributed to Officer Johnson missing the hearing … the fact that he did not choose to set forth the several reasons that contributed to his forgetting about the hearing does not make him a liar," wrote Dunbar in Johnson's appeal.
The appeal also bolstered Johnson's record: a 12-year veteran who held roles of DUI coordinator, medical program coordinator, equpment coordinator, abandoned vehicle program member, county drug unit member, and TAC team dispatcher; an officer who received numerous commendations from multiple jurisdictions; and "a motivated, effective and hardworking police officer whose only weakness appeared in report writing" per performance evaluation reports from 1998 to 2009 drafted by Sgts. Kromdyk and Richard Bubnis.
The Jan. 3, 2013 county court order affirmed the commission's ruling that Johnson admitted to missing the hearing, and that the borough failed to establish that Johnson lied during a May 26, 2010 interview with McDyre and other officials as to why he missed the hearing, according to court records.
The commission determined that, based on testimony from Officer Justin DiBonaventura, the borough did not follow acceptable investigatory procedures with regard to the May 26, 2010 meeting; it determined a complete and contemporaneous written record of the meeting should have ben created to determine what occurred, but there was no such record.
The county court order vacates the other two charges brought by the borough and upheld by the Civil Service Commission: Johnson made false statements to the court as to why he missed the May 18, 2010 hearing, and Johnson prepared a document to the District Attorney's Office, in which he falsely stated the reason he missed a hearing and requested “re-arrest” permission based on the false statement.
Before & After
Johnson's appeal lays out the timeline for what occurred before and after the missed hearing:
- On May 13, 2010, Johnson was on duty, and at 7 p.m., he was notified that his son was attacked and bitten by a neighbor’s pit bull. Johnson was permitted to go to the hospital, and returned to work after his son was released.
- Johnson worked previously-scheduled overtime shifts on May 14 and May 15. May 16 was his day off.
- On May 17, Johnson became ill with an onset of a chronic sinus and migraine condition and he called out sick. On May 18, Johnson was previously scheduled for a day off, known as a Squad Day.
- During the morning of May 18, Johnson left home to go to the Montgomery Township administration building, in order to vote and check on the incident report on his son's attack.
- At noon on May 18, Johnson started feeling more ill and took prescribed medications, then went to bed for the rest of the day. Johnson missed the DUI case scheduled that day for 2:30 p.m.
- Johnson worked the midnight to 6 p.m. shift while ill on May 19. He was advised by Bubnis that there was an issue concerning the missed hearing. Johnson apologized for missing the hearing. On May 19 and May 21, Bubnis prepared a memo to McDyre, explaining Johnson missed a court hearing on May 18, 2010.
- On May 21, Bubnis met with McDyre about the hearing and was advised by McDyre that he had already determined Johnson was going to be suspended.
- Bubnis told McDyre he was against the suspension because Johnson was a hard worker and did not feel the suspension was justified.
- On May 26, Johnson met with McDyre, Bubnis and Kromdyk. Johnson told McDyre he had visited Borek and told him he missed the hearing because he was sick. He also retrieved a letter drafted to the District Attorney indicating he did not attend the hearing because he was sick.
- On June 10, a Loudermill hearing held, with Johnson, McDyre, DiBonaventura, Kromdyk and Mayor Andy Szekely.
The appeal claims there was no record of the proceedings, except for notes taken by DiBonaventura. It also claims McDyre predetermined discipline, indicating he and Szekely would recommend termination to council.
According to the initial appeal, Johnson disputed the charges against him at the Loudermill hearing via the following evidence:
- An encounter with Montgomery Township Police Detective Joseph Bennis at 10 a.m. on May 18, where Bennis attempted to shake hands and Johnson declined, saying he was ill;
- On May 21, Johnson encountered Telford Borough Police Officer Brett Popiny, who came to Lansdale Police Department to pick up a prisoner at 8 a.m. Johnson stated to Popiny that he was sick, according to the appeal.
- Johnson's doctor testified that Johnson suffers from chronic sinus, and he had a CAT scan ordered and new medications prescribed all on May 24.
“The chief of police attempted to disavow the existence of a two-year reckoning period, which would preclude consideration by the Civil Service Commission of any alleged prior discipline more than two years prior to the instant charges," according to the appeal.
Johnson claimed a two-year recokoning period exists in writing, signed by McDyre and former Chief Joseph McGuriman, according to the appeal. Johnson claims the commission rejected the two-year period, and thus rejected Johnson's prior record in its entirety, according to the appeal.
In one of its appeals, the Civil Service Commission outlined Johnson's alleged past misconduct as an officer as support for the charges brought against him. The commission alleges the following in court documents:
- Johnson missed a total of seven hearings on three separate occasions: July 1998, April 2006 and July 2009.
- Johnson was given a written reprimand on July 28, 2009 after missing a third hearing: a felony drug case with two defendants.
- Johnson was charged with two counts of inefficiency and neglect of duty, and one charge of conduct unbecoming an officer on Feb. 26, 2009, and subsequently suspended for 24 hours.
- In the above charges, the commission claims Johnson:
- Ordered officers from another jurisdiction, who were in Lansdale to provide coverage for Lansdale during a special event, "to stay in the Lansdale station and respond together to calls for service as a group"
- Insulted and demeaned officers of another jurisdiction by allegedly stating, “I don’t want you knocking on doors in town” and “You could be stabbed at any time in Lansdale," and caused the department to be held in ridicule by other departments
- Left the borough to back up other officers from another department during a car stop; as officer in charge, Johnson should have detailed another officer to provide backup once an official request was made.
- On November 25, 2006, Sgt. James Waltrop reprimanded Johnson for being untruthful in reports, according to court documents: Johnson allegedly indicated on a report that he picked up a bag of marijuana and took custody of it. However, Waltrop said, a police corporal saw the marijuana, pointed it out to Johnson and Waltrop, and the corporal then picked up the bag and handed it to the officers.
- On November 13, 2008, Johnson was allegedly reprimanded for conduct unbecoming an officer, where he allegedly made a statement to a defendant in a traffic summary offense, thus giving the impression he was threatening to take retalitory police action against the defendant in the future.
- On July 29, 2003, Johnson was suspended from duty for 12 hours because he allegedly violated the code of conduct: Johnson allgedly refused to take a personal complaint from an individual, who he misidentified as being mentally ill, when, in reality, he was a 24-year veteran from a nearby municipality.
- In July 2001, Johnson allegedly failed to exercise due care while operating an emergency vehicle on highway.
George Johnson vs. Lansdale Borough and Lansdale Borough Civil Service Commission remains ongoing in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Calls to Dunbar seeking comment were not returned.