Trial over confiscated LL pins begins
“He was ballistic, but as soon as I turned them over … it was like he was Jekyll and Hyde,” Randy Shrey said during Tuesday’s opening day of a civil jury trial in U.S. Middle District Court.
Shrey and his wife, Janete, have accused a veteran Williamsport police officer of violating their Constitutional rights by claiming the pin-collecting officer seized more than 600 collectible souvenir Little League trading pins from their house in July 2008.
Former Police Capt. Raymond Kontz III, now an agent (detective), faces counts of illegal seizure of property and conversion, or seizing pins without lawful justification in the proceeding presided over by Judge Matthew W. Brann.
In his opening remarks, Attorney Michael J. Zicolello, representing the Shreys, accused Kontz of lying by claiming the police department received notice from Little League International about the pins being sold over the Internet without permission and then went to the Shreys with the intention of taking the pins.
Zicolello held up a Williamsport Police badge souvenir Little League pin to jurors before saying, “The case is not about this pin, but rather “lies,” and “abuse of authority” that came from police officers who “run the Williamsport Bureau of Police.”
The Shreys designed three pins for the 2008 Little League World Series, including the city police badge pin. As was their custom, they put a set of each pin on eBay to ascertain the interest their new pins would generate, according to the lawsuit.
As part of his opening remarks, Zicolello turned his attention not only toward Kontz, who was represented by Attorney David MacMain, but accused Kontz of complicity with his superior, Chief Gregory A. Foresman, who is not a party in the suit.
He alleged they fabricating a story that a complaint came from Little League International – the reason Kontz and former Agent Stephen Sorage, who also is not a party in the lawsuit, visited their house before the World Series that year.
“Seems they didn’t like somebody making up a Williamsport police pin and made up a lie … to take my client to jail,” Zicolello said.
Zicolello also accused Kontz of falsely informing the Shreys that their pin design was a violation of criminal law, and said he threatened to charge Randy Shrey with a felony for making and selling his city police badge pin.
Zicolello said Kontz intentionally used false threats to unlawfully seize Shrey’s pins and said Kontz took a large bag containing 636 pins and told Shrey he wouldn’t be charged because it was an “honest mistake.”
Later that same day, Kontz returned to the Shrey’s home to retrieve 19 more pins that Shrey said he found after the officer left the residence, bringing the total number of pins to 655, according to the lawsuit.
In his opening remarks, MacMain said Kontz didn’t lie, but rather followed the proper investigative procedure, including conferring with Sorage, now retired, and Lycoming County First Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Osokow.
MacMain described his client as a 17-year veteran of the police department and a United States Marine, who said the case is important to Kontz because there is no evidence of pins being stolen other than pins that initially were stored in a police file cabinet that are in the custody of the district attorney’s office.
“It’s offensive and damning,” MacMain said of allegations Kontz is a “thief” and “liar.”
Kontz, he said, doesn’t deserve such labels. He was, at the time, the officer in charge of the criminal investigative division of the department.
But Zicollelo argued that Kontz abused his authority, by telling Shrey he could be arrested and charged with a felony.
In his testimony, Randy Shrey said that Kontz told him, ‘I’m a pin collector … yours are so much nicer than mine.’ “
“He lied time after time, just to steal my pins,” Shrey said of Kontz.
Shrey also testified that he didn’t, at first, turn over all of the pins in his collection to the officer.
Shrey testified that his wife contacted Mayor Gabriel J. Campana about the police officers’ visit, and that less than an hour later Kontz called her back, upset about her involving the mayor in the matter.
“He said, ‘If you want to keep pushing this I’ll arrest your husband,’ ” Shrey said.
The Shreys turned over the pins to Kontz and were told the pins would be destroyed and they would be sent a receipt, Zicollelo said, but he added that Shrey said he had no way of knowing what really became of the pins and no receipt ever was received.
Kontz did not destroy the pins he took from the Shreys, and acknowledged, in the lawsuit, he did not follow protocol by not making entry into the property record, an infraction for which he was suspended.
During his cross-examination of Shrey, MacMain asked the now-dejected souvenir collector, who said he no longer wants to collect the pins, “Are you aware of a shred of evidence my client stole pins and are you aware of evidence from the district attorneys office of (my client stealing pins?)”
“No,” Shrey answered.
Later, Shrey said under another round of question the reason he filed the lawsuit in 2010 was because the “district attorney’s office wasn’t doing anything about it.”
Shrey also said he was informed the statute of limitations on the case would expire.
Today, there reportedly are 514 of Shrey’s pins at the district attorney’s office, which Shrey said is 141 less than what Kontz took.
The trial is scheduled to continue today.