FOP President David Piuri:
I have been made aware of several emails you recently sent to some members of Fraternal Order of Police Beaver Valley Lodge #4 and to county officials raising concerns about information received by the Beaver Countian as part of one of its investigations. I have likewise been made aware of several conversations you have had with individuals about the same subject.
I write this letter in hopes of clarifying some misunderstandings for you, and to make you aware that misinformation has been provided to you in furtherance of discrediting this publication and others in the wake of its latest series of investigative reports about controversies involving the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office.
Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, July 20th, the Beaver Countian received a tip from a confidential journalistic source about police radio dispatch traffic they heard on their scanner at home. The tip was originally an innocuous one: a local municipal police officer had made a traffic stop and encountered a suspect with an outstanding warrant — the patrolman was heard on the scanner offering to transport the prisoner to the Beaver County Jail instead of waiting for a Sheriff’s Deputy to be called out to complete the task.
The source felt that what they heard was a matter of interest, specifically because the Beaver County Board of Commissioners had suggested at public meetings that the county should consider offloading the task of doing warrant transports from the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office to local municipalities as a cost savings measure.
You and I have both sat in some of the same public meetings held between the Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff, so I know you are aware his office’s budget is currently a contentious topic of heated debate in county government.
The following day I received additional information that made the matter seem more significant; I began a cursory investigation into the radio dispatch and events surrounding it. Specifically, questions were raised as to whether or not the Sheriff was still running a midnight shift and whether or not there were attempts by the Sheriff’s Office to manipulate overtime to justify the need for an increase in their budget.
As part of that investigation, I requested from the county a copy of communications between county dispatch and a Sheriff’s Deputy from the night in question. The materials were obtained by the Board of Commissioners from managerial staff of Beaver County Emergency Services and provided by them to the county’s Law Department. I had a discussion with the County Solicitor as to my position on why the audio files should be released.
The county’s Law Department conducted a legal review and came to the determination that the information being requested was in fact a public record as a matter of law, but fell within a category that made its release by the county discretionary rather than mandatory.
The Beaver Countian eventually received two audio files directly from the Chief County Solicitor via email.
In my discussions with her, the Chief Solicitor made it clear that the recordings were released with the expressed approval of the Board of Commissioners, after considering any privacy implications and weighing the public interest in the content of the communications. As the conversation was between a Dispatcher and a Sheriff’s Deputy — both county employees who were conducting official business at the time — the Beaver Countian was granted the information. The Solicitor made it clear that had the call involved a member of the public or a municipal officer instead of two county employees, the decision would have been to deny its release. The Chief Solicitor requested at the time that if I published an article based on the recordings it would include information about that deliberative process by county officials.
After the Beaver Countian received the audio files from the Law Department I forwarded copies to the Sheriff’s Office Solicitor and sources directly involved in law enforcement for analysis and comment.
The Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation into the discussion between the Dispatcher and the Deputy and provided the Beaver Countian with a written statement about its conclusions. The County Chief of Staff held a meeting with the Sheriff to discuss the matter. County officials provided on-the-record quotes with their thoughts about the conversation. Several law enforcement sources also gave me their independent professional opinions about what they were hearing.
After gathering all of the relevant facts, I ultimately made the decision that the contents of the recordings were not newsworthy enough on their own to warrant publication. The Sheriff in fact had not been running a midnight shift that night; the Deputy had instead been held over from his regular 3-11 shift because of a previous prisoner transport. Although some members of the Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office continue to strongly disagree on whether or not the conversation evidenced attempts to manipulate overtime to “prove” a need for budget increases, I felt the discussion by itself did not justify a report.
On Friday, July 22nd, I notified both the Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office that there was not going to be an article published by the Beaver Countian about the matter unless additional information was uncovered in the future which warranted reporting.
Contrary to what you had been told, no recorded communications were ever “leaked” to me by a County Dispatcher. I respectfully submit the assertions you made that a dispatcher should be disciplined and perhaps people should be criminally prosecuted is a visceral reaction not remotely based on facts. The FOP’s treatment of county dispatchers and their Emergency Services Director this past week, largely as a result of misinformation being propagated by the Sheriff’s apologists, has been undeserved and unjust. Just as I put forth great effort to understand the facts surrounding allegations presented to me by tipsters, so too should the FOP fully understand a situation before casting aspersions against fellow members of their own law enforcement family.
The Beaver Countian receives thousands of tips each year, investigates just a fraction of those tips, and publishes articles based on only a fraction of that number. The vast majority of the work this publication does is never seen by the public. I work diligently to ensure the articles I publish are newsworthy, relevant, and extremely well vetted.
I take great exception to the remarks you made that there is any kind of “witch hunt” afoot involving the Sheriff’s Office — which I might add is the same turn of phrase that was so often used during my investigations into the prior Sheriff and his cronies. I know you are aware that there have been, and continues to be, serious issues within the Beaver County Sheriff’s Office which must be addressed.
As the husband of a police officer, I know intimately well the risks that our brave men and women in blue take each shift to protect our communities. Each day before he leaves for work I check his vest to make sure its edges properly overlap; I have in the past rushed to the hospital to be by his side after he had been injured by a suspect. I likewise understand the unique stresses that officers experience while performing their duties in what can at times feel like a thankless job.
That being said, I do not pretend to understand what it feels like to put on armor and strap on a gun before going to work.
As an investigative reporter, what I do understand is the importance of making sure governmental agencies — including police departments — operate in accordance with their charters, free from the corrupt and ill-intentioned. Environmentalists will tell you a single drop of motor oil can contaminate a million drops of water. Likewise, a single bad cop left to his own devices can unjustly tarnish an entire department or even profession. By informing the people of our community about matters of public concern, the media assists law enforcement in keeping its ranks clean and pure and worthy of the high public esteem their profession so rightfully deserves.
I respect the mission of the Fraternal Order of Police and hope this letter serves to clear up misunderstandings which were created by those disseminating misinformation to achieve a political end. In the future, please do not hesitate to contact me directly to get the facts about any concerns you or any members of your lodge may have.
– John Paul