Ex-officer seeks jury trial in lawsuit
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Almost two years after he was fired as a police officer by Punxsutawney Borough Council, Brian Andrekovich is again seeking to get his job back.
The lawsuit filed Oct. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Penn-sylvania by attorney Susan E. Mahood of Pitts-burgh names council President Susan Glessner and Vice-President Donna Lellock, as well as council members Larry Chenoga, Mike Porada, Bob Reesman, Bill Spencer and Roger Steele as defendants, as well as Borough Police Chief Tom Fedigan.
Andrekovich seeks reinstatement and damages in excess of $75,000. He also seeks a trial by jury.
Council fired Andrekovich Nov. 3, 2009, following the death of Stephen Obbish, 48, Aug. 15, 2009, in the back of a police cruiser after Andrekovich arrested him for public drunkenness at the Goodwill store in the Punxy Plaza.
The lawsuit said, “The individual defendants acted and conspired with the other individual defendants to deprive (Andrekovich) of his legal rights and failed to act to prevent others’ discriminatory and illegal treatment of (Andrekovich).”
Following Obbish’s death, the lawsuit said Fedigan, although there was no evidence of criminal conduct, decided to lodge a criminal complaint with the Pennsylvania State Police, which undertook a criminal investigation of Andrekovich.
Fedigan himself investigated the incident, and Sept. 8. 2009, conducted an interrogative custodial interview with Andrekovich, the suit said.
Even though Fedigan knew Andrekovich was the subject of a criminal investigation — because he instituted it — he did not give Andrekovich his required Miranda Rights or permit him representation by counsel during the interview, the suit said.
During a Sept. 8, 2009 hearing, the suit said Fedigan gave only the warning required by Garrity v. New Jersey, then improperly used the information from that interview against Andrekovich at a subsequent hearing of the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, during which Fedigan mischaracterized evidence and Andrekovich’s responses.
Oct. 30, 2009, Fedigan conducted what he characterized as a Loudermill hearing, at which he again denied Andrekovich legal counsel, the lawsuit said. For that hearing, Andrekovich was given less that 24 hours notice of the date and time; was not given time to complete his answers to questions; and was not informed of the charges against him until after the hearing occurred, the lawsuit said, so he had no “meaningful opportunity to defend himself against the charges.”
The lawsuit alleges that during both the Sept. 8, 2009, and Oct. 30, 2009 interviews, Fedigan falsely represented to Andrekovich that there was evidence against him, which did not exist, in an apparent attempt to induce Andrekovich to incriminate himself.
Nov. 3, 2009, as a majority of council, Chenoga, Lellock, Porada, Reesman, Spencer and Steele voted to fire Andrekovich, despite the lack of evidence of wrongdoing on his part, the suit said. Glessner abstained from the vote, the suit said, but didn’t take action “to prevent the illegal action from being taken by the other councilpersons.”
Andrekovich learned about his firing Nov. 5, 2009, and for the first time, learned of the charges against him, the suit said.
In March 2010, the state Attorney General’s Office said it would file no charges against Andrekovich, and in July 2010, the borough’s Civil Service Commission issued a decision and order, exonerating Andrekovich of all charges and ordering his reinstatement with back pay.
Despite these findings by the state Attorney General’s office and the Civil Service Commission, “the defendant borough council members have refused and continue to refuse to reinstate (Andrekovich) to his rightful position or give him back pay, to which he is entitled,” the lawsuit said. Council has also “pursued frivolous appeals of the Civil Service Commission decision and order while continuing to refuse (Andrekovich) reinstatement even after the failure of (its) first appeal,” the suit said.
The lawsuit also alleges that despite the judicial and administrative findings or record that Andrekovich is innocent of all charges made against him, “defendants and/or their agents have cause and/or permitted dissemination of the false charges and other information regarding his termination to the public,” which has caused Andrekovich and his family to be “subjected to public opprobrium,” and the “professional reputation which he previously enjoyed has been irreparably harmed.”
Because of these alleged actions by the defendants, the suit said Andrekovich has suffered a loss of income; damage to his professional reputation; mental anguish; and pain and suffering.
Also, the suit said, Andrekovich has lost his secondary employment as a consultant to the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jefferson County, the county Children & Youth Services; the office of the county district attorney; and other entities, for which employment Andrekovich had acquired specialized training and experience.