A Rochester Township patrolman has filed an official report alleging the town manager threw a fit after being pulled over for having expired inspection stickers, and that a Township Commissioner text messaged the officer during the traffic stop asking him to not issue the man citations. Now the town’s police chief has contacted the Pennsylvania State Police asking for an investigation into the matter.
According to a report by police, the incident occurred back on July 20th after a public meeting of Township Commissioners, when Patrolman Travis Mohrbacher was directed by fellow officers to issue Rochester Township Manager Thomas “Norm” Ely a written warning because his inspection and emissions were four months expired — Ely had allegedly already ignored multiple requests to get the problem taken care of.
The Beaver Countian obtained a copy of the police report about the incident in response to a formal Right-to-Know request.
“I was standing outside Rochester Township Office building talking to Officer [Kevin] Foltz and I seen Thomas Ely leaving the building,” wrote Officer Mohrbacher in his report. “Thomas drove out of the parking lot in a very fast manner, so I decided to follow him and he failed to come to a complete stop at the stop sign at Charlotte and Pentland Avenue and he failed to come to a complete stop at the stop sign at Pentland and Maple Street. So I conducted a traffic stop […] for a stop sign violation.”
Officer Mohrbacher was assisted on the traffic stop by Officer Foltz.
“Thomas Ely started yelling at me as soon as I got to his driver side window stating that this is all over bullshit political matters,” continued Officer Mohrbacher in his report. “[H]e opened his door and hit me in my right knee and gave me all of his information. I told Thomas why he was pulled over for a stop sign violation and that this was not a bullshit political matter […] I was just going to issue Thomas a warning to get his inspection taken care of but since he was very rude by yelling at me and hitting me with his door I issued him three citations for a stop sign violation, expired inspection of 3/2017 and expired emissions 3/2017.”
According to the report, as Officer Mohrbacher was writing the citations Township Manager Thomas Ely got on the phone with other township officials.
“While I was filling out his citations, I had one of the commissioners Tim [Lahue] text me,” wrote Mohrbacher.
Township Commissioner Lahue’s text message read: “Travis, for me, just write Norm a warning…PLEASE. Its a bullshit political matter.”
Officer Mohrbacher was not swayed.
“As I walked back up to the vehicle to give Thomas his information and citations to him, he stated that [Commissioner Lahue] was on his way here,” reported Mohrbacher. “Thomas was on the phone with [Commissioner Timothy Tuccinard] telling him that this is all bullshit. Thomas started to get out of control by yelling and opening his door again hitting me as I shut the door back.”
Having issued the citations, the officer left the scene.
In addition to being a Rochester Township Commissioner, Timothy Lahue is serving a six-year term on the town’s Civil Service Commission. Lahue’s live-in significant other, Debbie Pfeifer, is also a Commissioner in the town and is on the ballot for re-election this November. Outside of Rochester, Timothy Lahue serves as the Vice President of the Beaver County Regional Council of Governments.
Thomas Ely told the Beaver Countian during an interview conducted last Thursday that everything in Officer Mohrbacher’s report is essentially true.
“I had never seen the [police] report until after [the Beaver Countian] requested a copy of it,” said Ely. “The only thing in the report that I don’t believe is true in there is when I opened the door I didn’t know I hit the officer in the knee. I’m a bigger guy, I didn’t realize I did that, the door just popped open.”
Ely said he kept meaning to get his inspection and emissions renewed, but various things got in the way of appointments he had scheduled at the garage. He admitted he did not handle himself appropriately during his encounter with the officer.
“I was a little boisterous to that officer that night and I apologized to him he was just doing his job, it is what it is,” said Ely. “I didn’t call the Commissioners to get out of the ticket, I know that I did wrong and my inspection was up. I was just not happy that they seen me twice before that and didn’t do anything. I called Mr. Lahue [during the traffic stop] to get Mr. Tuccinard’s phone number to tell him I got pulled over, because I told him earlier I thought I would — I said watch what’s going to happen […] I didn’t even know Mr. Lahue sent a [text] message to [Officer Mohrbacher] until the next day.”
Thomas Ely told the Beaver Countian that he does not recall any business related to the police department being conducted at that night’s meeting, and “[did] not really know” what the “bullshit political matter” was that he and Lahue had blamed the traffic stop on.
Ely got his car inspected the day after he was written the citations. He pleaded not guilty to the traffic tickets issued to him by Officer Mohrbacher.
The Beaver Countian was in the courtroom for Thomas Ely’s traffic hearing held last Friday before Magisterial District Judge Dale Nicholson.
During the court proceedings, Ely admitted to District Judge Nicholson he had run the stop signs and that his inspection and emissions had been expired for months. He asked the judge to forgive the transgressions with his vehicle’s inspection stickers because he had since gotten them into compliance.
Officer Mohrbacher offered Ely a plea deal to a lesser charge for the stop sign violation that allowed him to avoid points on his license. District Judge Nicholson found Ely not guilty of the expired emissions but guilty of the expired inspection — reducing the amount Ely had to pay in fines while not eliminating them entirely.
“What troubles me is you went so long without inspection,” District Judge Nicholson told Ely when rendering his verdict.
The controversies surrounding the traffic stop were not brought up by either Thomas Ely or Officer Mohrbacher during the hearing.
The Beaver Countian watched several traffic hearings held that same morning, finding Officer Mohrbacher’s plea offer and Judge Nicholson’s split ruling consistent with how other cases were handled. In each case involving a stop sign violation, Mohrbacher offered the offender a plea deal that did not include points. In cases involving a combination of expired registration or inspections, District Judge Nicholson used his discretion when rendering a verdict to lessen the fines a defendant would be required to pay.
A law enforcement source familiar with Rochester Township Police Department’s handling of Thomas Ely’s traffic case said the matter is not over with.
“[Officer] Mohrbacher was in court for traffic violations committed by [Thomas Ely] and he did not treat him any more lenient or harsh than he would anyone else,” said the source, who spoke on condition they not be quoted by name. “Other things happened other than the traffic violations and that will be looked at separately.”
Multiple law enforcement sources have independently told the Beaver Countian that Rochester Township Police Chief George Yaccich has contacted the Pennsylvania State Police asking an outside investigation be conducted into the incident.
Along with being the Manager of Rochester Township, Thomas “Norm” Ely is currently a Democratic candidate for Mayor of Monaca Borough in an election that will be decided by voters in November.
Rochester Township Commissioner Tim Lahue did not return a detailed voicemail message left by the Beaver Countian seeking comment.