Interim chief says group’s claims a ‘witch hunt’
As Old Lycoming Township explores merging its police force with Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police Department, partly to reduce the tax burden on citizens, the top cop in the departments is pushing back against allegations he allowed officers to inappropriately conduct maximum speed limit enforcement details on Routes 15 and 220.
Tiadaghton Valley and interim Old Lycoming Police Chief Nathan DeRemer is accused of permitting the violation of terms outlined in an agreement with the Pennsylvania State Police regarding municipalities and regional police forces on speed enforcement details, according to a grassroots group calling itself Concerned Citizens of Old Lycoming Township.
At this week’s township supervisors’ meeting and in an interview with the Express’s sister paper, the Sun-Gazette, DeRemer countered the accusations and other claims by the citizens, describing them as a “witch hunt.”
DeRemer outlined how he took steps to rectify any misinterpretation of the regulations.
Specifically on the speed enforcement issue, DeRemer said such speed checks on divided and limited access highways have been done before and authorized by past township police chiefs.
The rule is that municipal and regional police must have a speed “enforcement agreement with Pennsylvania State Police in order to enforce maximum speed limits on divided and limited access highways.”
The Tiadaghton department has such an agreement on Route 220 in Piatt Township, effective Sept. 23, 2020 to Sept. 23 of this year.
“Since I have been chief at Tiadaghton Valley, on Route 220 we have had that agreement in place,” he said.
In Old Lycoming Township it was renewed, he said.
A joint township and Tiadaghton police “traffic enforcement” has occurred on Route 15 in Old Lycoming and on Route 220 in Piatt Township.
Citations were issued in both areas by the agencies for speeding and other violations.
When the chief said he received an email questioning the legality of maximum speed limit enforcement, he reached out to the state police.
Then, another detail was done in Piatt Township at that point with officers from Old Lycoming Township who did not issue citations for maximum speed. But these officers cited drivers for other violations of the motor vehicle code such as driving without registration or driving under suspension.
DeRemer also addressed claims going back to June 3, 2020.
That day two Tiadaghton police officers came to Old Lycoming and issued 11 citations speeding on Route 15.
The department was not questioned about that by then-township police Chief Joe Hope or by District Judge William Solomon, DeRemer said.
That is why he said at the supervisors’ meeting– in response to the citizens’ group inquiry — that there were other joint details among other municipalities in the past and no questions were ever raised.
For example, in and around 2010, DuBoistown police had a memorandum of understanding on a shared service agreement whereby DuBoistown officers came into Old Lycoming and conducted enforcement activities on Route 15, DeRemer said.
Nevertheless, what remains troublesome to the citizens group is what was permitted under DeRemer’s watch.
Specifically, State Police Maj. Robert J. Krohl Jr., director of the PSP Bureau of Patrol in correspondence dated July 6, stated that “no provision of this agreement may be extended to any other police department.”
Meanwhile, Old Lycoming’s most recent agreement to enforce maximum speed limits on Route 15 prior to April 6 expired Jan. 21, the group alleges.
With the agreement expired, Old Lycoming has no authority to enforce maximum speed limits on Route 15, let alone ask another department to do so, the group argued in its statement to supervisors.
What the group said transpired:
On March 20 and April 6, township officers issued 28 maximum speed limit citations in Piatt Township, where as described by the agreement, they did not have authority to do so.
Again, on March 21, 23 and 30 township and Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police officers issued 28 maximum speed citations on Route 15. Neither department had any authority to issue these citations based on the agreement terms.
On April 4, District Judge William Solomon, a former township police chief and officer, corresponded by email to DeRemer and copied the township board of supervisors and township manager Matthew Aikey on the email, advising activity on Route 15 conducted by Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police was “inappropriate.”
On April 6, DeRemer submitted an application to state police in Harrisburg seeking authorization to enforce the speed limit on Route 15 in Old Lycoming Township, Hepburn Township and Lycoming Township and renewed the authorization for Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police.
A day later, DeRemer replied to Solomon advising the judge he was waiting for clarification about the agreement from a state police captain.
“What clarification?” asked James Sortman, a township resident, former township police officer, former county deputy sheriff and retired magistrate district judge in the township, on behalf of the citizens group. The authority given to the township expired Jan. 21, as stated.
Moreover, on April 6, township officers were sent to Route 220 in Piatt Township and conducted another maximum speed timing detail, one in which 16 citations were issued. This occurred after DeRemer had put the valid two-year authorization in effect, and was warned by Solomon of problems with Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police being on Route 15.
Actions that ideally should have been taken:
The citizens’ group asserted DeRemer should have ordered all citations that were still pending to be withdrawn, which the group said was not done as of June 6, when a guilty plea was entered on one of the citations. Had he ordered the withdrawal of those, at least 31 unauthorized citations would have been closed with no one entering a plea.
A warrant could have been issued if there is no response to the citation. An individual would be handcuffed and taken from their home or business to the district judge. However, the citation would not be valid and the warrant not valid. The citizens’ group alleges that an individual could bring a lawsuit against the township, Tiadaghton Valley Regional Police and add all parties involved such as supervisors, township manager and chief of police.
During the operation of the speed details, an accident could have happened during pursuit of a vehicle.
Again, a lawsuit due to police having no authority to be enforcing the maximum speed limit law could have commenced, the group stated. If officers would discover any type of contraband, such as stolen guns or illegal drugs, the group fears the evidence would be suppressed by the court because the officers were not performing lawful duties at the time of the stop.
Sortman reiterated such potential scenarios existed because the police disregarded the expiration of the one agreement and the police disregarded the clear language in the agreement.
The potential problematic citations would have been reduced to 25 had DeRemer ordered the withdrawal of the 31 citations issued after April 6 and not ordered another detail after that day, the group stated.
Solomon, reached by the Sun-Gazette Wednesday, said he could not in his job capacity comment on this matter. DeRemer said Solomon was township chief when the DuBoistown shared service agreement and MOU, he referenced, was in place.
DeRemer clarified he is not upset with the inquiry and said this comes with the job but said every attempt was made to rectify and be in compliance once he received the correspondence from the district judge.
Meanwhile, this is occurring as DeRemer waits for supervisors to decide on whether the township will hold a special community meeting to discuss and possibly formally regionalize the two departments.
Old Lycoming Township Supervisor Linda Mazzullo, chair of the board, said after the details are presented and questions taken, a vote on regionalization would occur.
Concerned Citizens of Old Lycoming Township and other residents said they first want to see an updated state Department of Community and Economic Development study or an “independent and unbiased study” done on the departments’ possible merger.