Aliquippa Police Chief Joseph Perciavalle has been arrested for the second time by Beaver County Detectives.
Detectives filed a felony charge of intercepting a communication against Perciavalle today, alleging he recorded a conversation he had with Aliquippa Police Chief Donald Couch.
Perciavalle was arraigned this morning by Hopewell Magisterial District Judge Janet Swihart and released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
According to a criminal complaint filed by Chief County Detective Andy Gall, Perciavalle recorded a conversation with Chief Couch without his knowledge:
“On June 13, 2018 while examining the contents of (Joseph Perciavalle’s) phone, Det. Lt. Robert Heberle came across an audio file that had been recorded on March 2, 2018 that was 39.03 minutes long. The audio file was a recorded conversation between Perciavalle and Aliquippa Police Chief Donald Couch and contained topics involving the Aliquippa Police Department, the Aliquippa Police pension fund, (City Manager) Sam Gill, Retired Captain Doug Edgell, Aliquippa High School Football, and others. This recording was made the day that the Pennsylvania State Police served a search warrant on the municipal offices for City of Aliquippa. Det. Lt. Heberle is ‘wire certified’ and noticed that there was no preamble or conclusion to the voice interception as required. It was also quite obvious that the recording ended when Perciavalle and Couch parted company (…) Couch assured the detectives that he had never given Perciavalle permission to record any conversations between them (…) Couch stated that he and Perciavalle rode together on patrol and talked about the police department business and why PSP would be searching the City of Aliquippa offices.”
Defense Attorney Steve Townsend is representing Perciavalle, and told BeaverCountian.com that county detectives have it all wrong: “I can say that Joe Perciavalle is denying any wrongdoing and I can say that the allegations of how and when this conversation was recorded is not as it was described in the complaint.”
Townsend said the conversation was recorded by Perciavalle in a public setting where Chief Couch had no expectation of privacy.
“The complaint says that Couch and Perciavalle were in a patrol vehicle together, that is absolutely false,” said Townsend. “The conversation that took place occurred in a parking lot across from the city building, out in the open and in public (…) This is not a wiretap violation.”
Townsend told BeaverCountian.com that county detectives discovered the recorded conversation while searching Perciavalle’s smartphone which had been seized after they arrested him the first time on June 8.
Perciavalle was placed on paid leave from the department in June after county detectives charged him with distributing an obscene image of a woman urinating to the 17-year-old daughter of Aliquippa Police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins. Detectives found the image on the young woman’s phone while searching it as part of their investigation into the murder of Rachael DelTondo. Perciavalle insisted the image was a widely-distributed meme that had been accidentally sent to Watkins’ daughter as part of a group message.
Sgt. Watkins was placed on paid leave in May because his daughter was identified as a witness in the case. Perciavalle’s arrest came the day after he was named acting Police Chief and announced he would be asking the Pennsylvania State Police to take over the homicide investigation of Rachael DelTondo.
“The search warrant for his phone is still sealed,” said Townsend, who questioned how detectives came to listen to an audio recording when they should only have been searching for text messages he exchanged with Sgt. Watkins’ daughter. “I think what they did might have been outside the scope of that warrant.”
In an interview with BeaverCountian.com following his first arrest, Perciavalle said he believed he was being targeted and retaliated against by county detectives.
Aliquippa Police Chief Donald Couch was placed on paid administrative leave by city council on June 6. Councilman Matthew Mottes said he has first-hand information that Couch is the subject of a criminal investigation by Pennsylvania State Police.
“I think if you wanted to look from a 35,000 foot flyover you could find there was definitely a hostile work environment in that police department,” said Townsend.