Illustration by © Bram Janssens

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of reports by BeaverCountian.com special features contributor April Johnston that will take you deep inside a city under siege.

Rob Sealock woke shortly after 2 a.m. on July 2. The mask to his CPAP machine, which he uses at night for his sleep apnea, had shifted, causing air to leak out, and the left side of his face felt unusually numb. He sat up and reached for his shirt, crumpled next to the bed, with his left hand.

He missed.

Then he missed again.

And again.

Cursing, he finally grabbed the shirt with his right hand and marched directly to the bathroom to look in the mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. The left side of his face was sagging, as if he’d just received a dose of novocaine at the dentist. He looked down at the left hand that hadn’t wanted to obey him. Its fingers curved into a C and refused to straighten.

He rushed back into his bedroom and woke his wife.

“I think I’m having a stroke,” he told her.

An ambulance took Sealock to the hospital, where doctors ran tests and declared him extremely lucky. The blood clot on his brain had broken in his favor, and he was unlikely to experience any lingering effects. They prescribed blood thinners, ordered him to quit smoking and suggested he reduce his stress.

Sealock immediately filled the prescription and tossed his Marlboro Reds. But stress? That he couldn’t avoid. Because just a month before he ended up in the hospital, in an emergency city council meeting, he was named acting chief of Beaver County’s most beleaguered police department.

And he was due back at work, where that department was down four officers, violent crime was on the uptick, a spring murder had made national news and allegations of corruption had already brought down two chiefs.

Police work in Aliquippa is notoriously difficult. What patrolmen in other Beaver County departments may see once in a career, Aliquippa police are likely to see several times a year.

And the spring and summer of 2018 have been particularly volatile.

It began on April 15, when 37-year-old Antwaiin Lawson was found in the 200 block of Fifth Avenue with a fatal gunshot wound to the head. Less than a month later, on Mother’s Day, 33-year-old Rachael DelTondo was gunned down in her parents’ driveway. Her death, which had already made national news, whipped into a firestorm when reporters revealed DelTondo had spoken with state police and the state attorney general’s office in connection with investigations into the Aliquippa Police Department.

Both murders remain unsolved.

Then on July 18, 32-year-old Terrell Henson was shot to death during a botched home invasion.

Police also responded to a teenager brandishing a loaded AK-47 on June 20, a brawl – which began on Irwin Street and ended in front of the police station – on July 4, stabbings on July 15 and July 26 and a bank robbery on July 23.

“It wouldn’t be that different from any other year, except this all happened within three months,” Sealock said.

The turmoil inside the police department, much of it related to the DelTondo murder case, has been equally demoralizing.

The leak of sensitive police documents – including an incident report detailing the night police found DelTondo and then-17-year-old Sheldon Jeter Jr. parked in a car with steamed-up windows – sparked a state police investigation into the department last fall. A statewide investigating grand jury convened a few months later to hear testimony about alleged corruption in Beaver County, including the city of Aliquippa and its police department.

Though charges have yet to be filed, the looming investigations have already taken their toll. In June, Aliquippa Council voted unanimously to place Chief Donald Couch on paid leave after Councilman Matthew Mottes announced he had firsthand knowledge that Couch was a target of the state police investigation.

Assistant Chief Joseph Perciavalle stepped up to acting chief but was on the job just two days before he, too, was placed on paid leave. Beaver County Detectives charged him with distributing an obscene image to the 17-year-old daughter of Aliquippa Police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins, who had been placed on paid leave back in May because his daughter was identified as a witness in the DelTondo case. She was with DelTondo just before the murder.

With Couch, Perciavalle and Watkins on administrative leave and a captain out sick, the department is down to 12 officers. Full capacity is 18.

Sealock has been trying to hire new officers, but it’s a difficult task. Few officers want to work in Aliquippa for $14 an hour when they can get better paying, less taxing police work elsewhere in the county.

A recent search yielded just seven applicants. Two passed the police test. One immediately got hired by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Sealock hired the other one. Meanwhile, four crews of three officers have struggled to cover 21 shifts a week.

In July alone, the department worked 106 overtime shifts. One officer worked 12 double shifts in 13 days. Even Sealock took five doubles in a row.

“We’re so busy I forget my schedule sometimes,” said Patrolman James Mark Cillo, who logged 196 hours on his last paycheck. “When you’re up for a day and a half straight, it wears you out.”

“I tell my wife, when I go to work, expect me to work a double,” Patrolman John Lane added. “A lot of us have accepted it. You have to do what you have to do to survive.”

In 1979, two Aliquippa police officers were accused of stealing five handguns and $2,500 in cash from Sol’s Sporting Goods on Franklin Avenue. The supposed theft touched off rumors of a police burglary ring and Beaver County District Attorney Edward Tocci threatened to convene a grand jury to investigate corruption and poor leadership.

It’s been almost 40 years, but it remains a stain on the department.

“People still bring that up to us,” Sealock said. “We’ve had to live with that. And the soon-to-be shitstorm that’s coming from the grand jury – we’ll have to live with that, too.”

Sealock has no way of knowing who, or how many, from the city of Aliquippa and the police department will be indicted, but he fears that when charges are handed down, the fallout will be swift and mighty. State police raided the Aliquippa City Building back in March and Mayor Dwan Walker has refused to meet with investigators. Councilman Mottes’ claim that Couch is part of the probe led to his downfall. And with the national media spotlight already pointed in Aliquippa’s direction thanks to the DelTondo case, any indictments seem ripe for intensive coverage.

“It worries me because I feel like we’re going in the right direction now and maybe it’s going to set us back,” Sealock said. “I hope we’ll still have the respect of the residents, but there are some who will say, ‘if one’s bad, they’re all bad.’”

Cillo has already sensed a shift, particularly when he’s out in the cruiser, patrolling the streets.

“It’s more apparent since the DelTondo murder,” Cillo said. “We get more F yous.”

But, somehow, despite the unsolved murders and the violent summer, the corruption allegations and the punishing hours, the morale in the department is up. Many of the officers like the way Sealock is running things.

His first directive as chief was to recuse the department from the DelTondo case. He’s also ordered his officers to call state police in on any high-profile cases so that the department’s limited resources can be used elsewhere. It was state police who solved the July 18 shooting of Terrell Henson.

The moves have earned praise from the community, including DelTondo’s mother, Lisa.

But it was Sealock’s response to Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier’s insinuation that DelTondo may have been murdered by a police officer that resonated among his officers. Sealock immediately halted street patrols and required that any calls be answered by at least three officers.

“There’s no sugarcoating it,” Sealock said. “(Lozier) put a target on our backs.”

The emergency measures have since been lifted, but the good will has remained.

“Guys want to work their asses off for him,” Cillo said. “He’s been on the street for 20 years. He knows what we go through. He’s doing everything he can for us.”

Lane agreed.

“It’s a massive change,” he said. “It’s hard when you come to work and you feel like you wear your vest to protect you from the people in here (rather) than the people out there. You were always thinking, ‘Is this the day I’m going to get fired?’”

Along with reporting for BeaverCountian.com, April Johnston also writes and produces Nebby, a podcast about Pittsburgh.

47 COMMENTS

  1. “One immediately got picked up by the Drug Enforcement Agency.”

    Could you explain that? Poorly worded at best.

     
    • Thank you for the comment. The article has been updated to clarify that the other applicant had been hired by the DEA.

       
  2. WTF Dwan, why aren’t you cooperating with the investigation?! If you’ve got nothing to hide it shouldn’t be a problem for you, right? It’s all fun and games when you’re grandstanding for a photo op or attending community gatherings but you didn’t win a popularity contest. You were ELECTED to run the city and fulfill all your campaign promises so do your fucking job! Haven’t heard publicly a word from you yet backing your police officers for the jobs they’re doing since all this shit went down. Real classy but then again, you have none.

    Rob, really sorry to hear about your health issues and glad you’re ok. Hate to think where this city would be if something happened to you now! Thank you again for taking on all this BS. The shit that occurred 40 years ago has nothing to do with your dept today other than the fact that you guys are still being paid the same hourly rate…smh! Pitiful! Council needs to make cuts elsewhere and find you guys more money. Staffing has been a problem for how long now, 15-20 years? You guys deserve combat pay for what you’re dealing with.

    There are citizens that support our officers and appreciate you guys showing up for work every day, myself included. I hope you all can continue to do so even though it’s wearing you down and pray for everyone’s safety.

     
    • ALL I worry about is MY Alighetto flag and the up and coming “Little Thugs” football team! They WILL make me proud! Kill on Thursday…Play on Friday! GO QUIPS!!!

       

      Attachments:
    • Ghetto Girl.. well said! Truth is Dewan should have acted on the massive payroll theft that he ABSOLUTELY POSITIVELY knew was going by Couch and Pudik for at least 4 years. All that money paid to these 2 idiots would have covered decent pay raises to the dedicated officers of our police force who actually have and still do work their butts off.

      BUT instead.. our Mayor And his Bro both chose to ignore it. To make it look like they are doing something they put in time clocks that all of the long time honest employees have to use!

      AND best of all.. he has openly said at council meetings and other public functions that he would personally fire ANYONE he found who was steeling from the city. He forgot to add to that statement “anyone except couch and Pudik”.

       
      • Well said mercbenz ! but watch out lil couch may attack you on here, only if he can put the bowl or pipe down long enough ! Maybe he will get drug tested at work, no wait that’s right you are color blind ! maybe its medicinal ? So, Dewanna always knew about the double and triple dipping done by Couch and Pudick. I know pretty much everyone is glad Couch is gone, well maybe Lynn and Mark miss you, but you helped out when the house ” caught on fire ” Pudick, well he got put on a crew and all of a sudden has to have surgery ! Oh shit you have to work hard again, see you later, go to New Orleans, you will fit in perfect there. So with Donny off, I wonder who will pay Dewanna’s bills ? RICO, RICO, RICO

         
      • @Society.. the only surgery Poudick needs is to have his head surgically removed from Couchs ass. Its been up there so long I doubt just lubing it up helped at all.

        If Poudick is off… why does he have a city vehicle at his home??? He can drive his own personal vehicle while he’s all drunked up on his insurance!

         
  3. No it does not feel good to have a target put on your back. Chief Sealock do you have the same sympathies for the citizens of Beaver County who have had a target put on there backs by the Sheriffs Dept. And the Aliquippa police.

     
  4. I personally would like to say “THANK YOU” to the men of the APD. I really do appreciate that you men are still willing to protect me and my family in this ungrateful cesspool of a town. My hat off to you men! Again, THANK YOU! Just remember, most of us are with you! It is a shame that you must live with the stigma of the most corrupt police dept in Beaver County from 20-50 years ago. Those are the guys that should have been investigated. And anybody that is old enough to remember knows exactly who I’m talking about. The list is long, but the names still keep coming up to this day. Godspeed.

     
  5. I hope Chief Sealock has a full recovery.

    Aliquippa is besieged with problems, but “under siege?” That implies outside forces. As I see it, the “siege” is from within the city government itself. What has become of the grand jury, the PSP investigation, the murder investigations, the three policemen being paid to stay home, and a mayor who defies law and order by refusing to cooperate with law enforcement? Is there any progress? Has anything improved?

    Forget 1979 and focus on the current issues of 2018. Do not condemn every policeman because of the actions of a few. Let each be judged on his own actions. Also, they have got to be paid more because of the challenges of policing this city. And don’t let the good ones be run off by trumped up charges from corrupt individuals. (From what I’ve read in previous articles, this has happened. And worse.)

    The citizens deserve better communication from those who are in charge of the city. They must issue public statements as to what they are doing and what they plan to do to. Let’s see some leadership.

    Thanks to J P and the Beaver Countian, at least some of us are informed. Keep it coming, J P.

     
  6. What is the mechanism for getting the officers who are on paid leave either back on the job or off the payroll so this man can hire some officers? Ridiculous that the Seargent is still on paid leave three months later. That department can’t continue to function understaffed to the point that it is

     
    • The 14 and hour would go up if they would stop paying crooked as Watkins and couch!! Put perc back on the force and hire another officer and use the money that’s being wasted on couch and Watkins! Shit they could probably hire 3 officers with what crooked couch was making for doing, NOTHING at all for the city! Why are either still on paid leave if they are being investigated, shouldn’t that be unpaid?? Not like they broke their leg chasing a suspect, they are in some dirty shit, but we still have to pay them!?! Wtf!!!!??

       
  7. $14 an hour for entry level police officers?? No wonder there are staffing issues. Entry level secretaries in NM start at $23 per hour. And NM is the 48th poorest state in the union.

     
  8. Having Couch and Watkins on paid leave is just baffling to me. The city doesn’t have the money to hire enough officers to keep the people safe while Couch and Watkins sit around their houses on a staycation doing nothing and collecting a paycheck. City council needs to moving these two to unpaid leave so the city can protect itself. Can you imagine with the APD could do with those bloated salaries?

    Why don’t you get on that Dwan. It’s your show, it’s your citizens paying the price. Do the right thing for once. Or are you too busy coordinating more rallies to get your name in the paper and lining up for your run at commissioner? The next innocent that dies in Quip is blood on your hands.

     
      • I will gladly shut up as soon as my tax money is used for what it’s supposed to be used for instead of supporting a bunch of criminals and attention whores.

         
      • @C Hines.. i believe Disgruntled gave you a spot on reply. There are many of us putting in 60 and 70 hours a week to try to suppost our fams and pay upcoming property taxes. Are you walking in our shoes?? If so you should be outraged about how our tax money is being spent! If you dont pay taxes like everyone else.. my advice to you is step off and STFU!

         
      • Every time I see someone write that ☝️ I can see Watkins wife pounding at the keyboard!

         
  9. ” ONE ALIQUIPPA ? ”
    Mayor Dwan B Walker
    Office of the Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf
    Advisory Commission of African American Affairs at Office of the Pennsylvania.

    Mixed up Priorities? After a lapse in judgement by Gov. Wolf, it didn’t take long for “His Honor,” to change his facebook profile. Suggestion: Maybe the mayor should be more visible and address the problems facing Aliquippa.

     
  10. 1979! Really. Except for the little man,These cops cops couldnt carry those old timers jock straps! Heres an idea seacock, get your officers out of the protection of thier cruisers and have them walk the beat on plan 12 and the hill. Maybe they’ll talk to people on a human level and get theyre finger on the pulse of the situation. Hey… didnt Georgie own a gun shop?….🤔

     
    • sure, you can be brave online. bet you wouldn’t walk thru the hood at night alone, armed or unarmed, black or white. bet you wouldn’t walk it in broad daylight.

       
      • sezme, you are absolutely right in ur response to Brotherbilo. On here talking like big man on campus. How about if he puts on a uniform and struts his self walking the beat. Maybe he can then talk to people on a human level. HAHAHA…let us know how that works out for you big man.

         
  11. I support the LEO’s but the ones who turn a blind eye to theft, corruption and fail to uphold the law for ALL citizens have only themselves to blame for the current anti law bias. You take an oath to support the law and the peoples rights, not to cover up shit for fellow officers, AKA Blue wall of silence. The Chief in Alighetto wasn’t stealing without anyone knowing. He must have spread some jingles around for everyone to keep quiet. Old project shit, nobody talks and we all walk. Can anyone explain to me how all those officers in Alighetto and the other crook in Ambridge are getting paid for nothing? This shit is getting old. Taxpayers paying for corrupt and inept police forces and thieving local government employees. Where the f-ck you be hiding DEEEWANNN? You missed a great parade over the weekend. You are truly a worthless piece of shit. What the other crooks did & stole before you took over you have doubled down on. You won’t get elected to the county out house. You’ll be lucky to call Alighetto you own little heaven. Fire them piece of shits on paid leave and hire honest cops. Who does Watkins have shit on to get paid for nothing? he should be fired and put his sleazy hoe daughter out on the street where she belongs.

     
  12. Beaver Co. Has alot of Law Enforcement officers , You would be lucky to find 6 that could and would take take the job.

     
  13. I think that we need Our Man Mike to come out and lend some support to Quan. Mike could get things fixed up, and also get some much needed money funneled to Da Quip for economic development and prosperity.

     

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!

Please enter your name here