An Aliquippa police sergeant has accepted a voluntary demotion to patrolman after Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier told his department he would refuse to prosecute any criminal cases filed by the officer.
Kenneth Watkins volunteered to be demoted on December 21, as Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker attempted to hold a “Loudermill Hearing” for him without the city’s police chief being present, according to Councilman Matthew Mottes.
A Loudermill hearing is part of the due process requirements for civil service employees that often proceeds termination.
Mottes said he was notified that Walker was attempting to hold a hearing for Watkins as it was about to take place, and rushed to the city building along with Councilman Arthur Piroli.
In addition to Walker and Watkins, also present for the hearing were the city’s solicitor and labor counsel, along with a police union representative.
“I asked Dwan what was going on,” said Mottes.
“I was told Dwan just wanted to have a ‘conversation’ with Kenny (Watkins) to help ‘clear the air’ … The labor attorney was asking Dwan why he was even asked to be there.”
It was then that Kenneth Watkins volunteered to be demoted from sergeant to patrolman. Mottes said Watkins’ salary will remain unchanged.
“Watkins voluntarily took a demotion from sergeant to patrolman, which was unanimously agreed upon by council. Watkins expressed to council that he thought it was in the best interest of the department and that he did not want to be a continued distraction,” said Mottes.
“His salary will remain the same under provisions of the police contract.”
Mottes said Watkins had previously been a subject of discussion by council following a letter Lozier sent to the city in December, notifying them his office would refuse to prosecute any case filed by the officer.
Watkins had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a December 4 preliminary hearing for Aliquippa Assistant Police Chief Joseph Perciavalle, who is being prosecuted by Lozier’s office for sending an explicit text message to Watkins’ daughter Lauren.
Kenneth and Lauren Watkins have both expressed outrage that Lozier is prosecuting Perciavalle, and have said the text in question was sent by Perciavalle to Lauren accidentally as part of a group message. Kenneth said he believes Lozier is retaliating against Perciavalle, and feared he would become Lozier’s next target.
Perciavalle had been assisting state and federal investigators in their ongoing corruption investigations before being arrested by county detectives. His arrest came just two days after he was named Aliquippa’s acting police chief last June.
Despite being blackballed by Lozier, Watkins continues to patrol the streets of Aliquippa.
“We were advised by our (Pittsburgh labor attorney) that we should take no action against Watkins based on Lozier’s actions,” said Mottes.
“It is the opinion of our labor attorney that what Lozier did may be unconstitutional, and that the city could face a federal lawsuit if it tried to do anything to him.”
Mottes said council also discussed Assistant Police Chief Joseph Perciavalle’s employment status last month. Perciavalle was placed on administrative suspension with pay following his arrest in June.
“Our labor attorney also advised us we should continue to pay Perciavalle until after his trial,” said Mottes.
“He told us that Perciavalle has provided a lot of information in ongoing investigations into (Police Chief Donald Couch).”
Couch has also been on paid administrative suspension since June, after Mottes announced he had first-hand information that the chief is the subject of a criminal investigation.
Mottes has previously said he is assisting state police in their ongoing investigations into Aliquippa.
Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker could not be reached for comment.