The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania has denied an appeal by Beaver County Sheriff George David and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, upholding a preliminary junction issued by Senior Erie County Judge John Bozza preventing the Sheriff’s Office from performing private security services for outside organizations.
It was the first time the Commonwealth Court has ever had to weigh in on the issue of Deputies performing security work for private corporations.
“Upon review, we conclude that reasonable grounds exist to support the trial court’s issuance of the preliminary injunction in this case,” wrote Judge Cohn Jubelirer in an opinion on behalf of a majority of the Commonwealth Court, “the County is likely to prevail on the issue of whether the conduct to be restrained, the Sheriff Department’s assignment of the extra duty work assignments to the deputy sheriffs, violates [the law's] prohibition against providing official services to any person, association or corporation.”
“We conclude that the injunction is reasonably suited to abate the offending conduct and it does not adversely affect the public interest,” continued Judge Jubelirer. “Given the costs of overtime, workers’ compensation, and pension issues, a greater injury to County taxpayers would result from the refusal of the injunction.”
Assistant County Solicitor Bernie Rabik, who argued the case on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, said the ruling was a good one for county taxpayers.
“It’s a poignant application of the law to the facts, that’s what this opinion is all about,” said Rabik. “It’s about applying the law to the actions of the Sheriff and Deputy Sheriffs. The law here is very clear, the court found that the law is clear, and decided against the Sheriff accordingly.”
After an investigative report by the Beaver Countian in August of 2012, County Commissioners filed a lawsuit against Sheriff David attempting to stop him from having his Deputies perform private security services for outside entities, which Judge Bozza subsequently deemed was a violation of state law. A preliminary audit then conducted by the County Controller David Rossi’s Office showed David had been underbilling for those services, costing taxpayers nearly $100,000 in the form of de facto subsidies to private businesses.
Judge Bozza issued a preliminary injunction against Sheriff David and his Deputies, directing them to cease and desist from performing the private security services. “The Sheriff and deputy sheriffs Beaver County shall refrain from performing, directly or indirectly, any official services or official duties for any person, association or corporation, during a period of official service as a sheriff or sheriff’s deputy,” read Judge Bozza’s order.
Sheriff David and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association appealed Judge Bozza’s ruling, which lead to today’s verdict by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
Commissioners have alleged that Sheriff George David has continued to order his Deputies to perform security services for private corporations, in direct violation of the preliminary injunction issued against him by the court.
Sheriff David’s apparent violation of Judge Bozza’s order was first exposed by yet another investigative report published by the Beaver Countian back in October. Confidential sources within the Sheriff’s Office had provided this publication with a copy of internal departmental directives, revealing David had still been ordering security patrols for corporate properties owned by local real estate tycoon CJ Betters.
A hearing to determine if Sheriff George David and the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association should be found in contempt of court has been scheduled before Judge Bozza on January 13th.
Note: In the interest of full disclosure, this reporter is a named victim in criminal charges filed against Sheriff George David by the Pennsylvania State Police.