A recent verdict in U.S. Middle District Court against a Williamsport Bureau of Police agent exposed a rift among the city police ranks. And, the verdict’s impact on city taxpayers remains uncertain.
Jurors believed Agent Raymond O. Kontz III acted outside the scope of his authority when he seized Randy and Janete Shrey’s Little League pins depicting a city police badge in 2008 under the guise of receiving a complaint from Little League about misuse of the organization’s logo. An appeal may still be filed in the case.
Asked who will pick up the bill for the verdict, William E. Nichols Jr., city director of finance, referred to the city’s liability insurance.
“Insurance pays,” he said, likening the liability insurance premium to medical insurance to prevent loss in event of a major incident. But that’s still being reviewed and the exposure for taxpayers is uncertain.
“We’re reviewing whether the city has any exposure in terms of paying for damages or attorney fees,” said city Assistant Solicitor J. David Smith. “I believe the verdict is subject to legal challenges, but I don’t know the net effect on taxpayers.”
Such an appeal may be asking Judge Matthew W. Brann to take another look at the verdict.
Council President Bill Hall said he and the rest of council have been advised to withhold comment until they meet with Smith in executive session, which allows for closed-door meetings to discuss legal matters. The meeting is likely to take place on Thursday, according to Smith.
While a civil verdict has been rendered in the matter, Kontz was never charged criminally. When reached Wednesday, Lycoming County District Attorney Eric R. Linhardt explained why.
“At the time the Shreys lodged their complaint against (Kontz) with my office, I asked my county detectives to conduct a thorough criminal investigation of the matter,” Linhardt said. “It is the result of that investigation that criminal charges against the agent are not warranted.”
He continued: “There are different standards in civil and criminal courts. Kontz has made mistakes which he has acknowledged. Those mistakes, however, are not criminal mistakes.
“Appropriately, the Shreys have had their remedy civilly. And now, the price that Kontz will pay will come as a result of the jury’s verdict and as a result of the police department’s own internal investigation.”
The case unearthed a rift among police and law enforcement officers and left many feeling as though their reputations as police officers will suffer.
“This didn’t just hurt Ray, it touches all of us,” said city police Capt. Timothy Miller. “We have a lot of good officers who do their jobs every day and no way should this reflect on them.”
“We all make mistakes at one time or another, but the public perception of us is, when one makes a mistake, we all make a mistake. That’s never the case,” Chief Gregory A. Foresman said. “He’s done more than he’s done anything negatively. I’m trying to get people to realize the department is feeling this and when it affects one it affects all police officers.”
After the internal investigation, Kontz was suspended for three days.
“We felt no additional discipline was warranted because there was nothing extenuating other than what was determined through an internal department process, and that showed there was a violation of policy and procedure,” Foresman said.
The Shreys complained to Linhardt’s office in 2010 and said Kontz took their pins illegally and they heard he converted them for his own use and sold them. From that, Linhardt’s office advised city police and police, in turn, launched its own internal investigation done by Agent Donald Mayes. Mayes found that the Shreys were encouraged to take their case to Lindhardt’s office by Patrolman Jimmie Rodgers and ex-city patrolman Thomas H. Ungard Jr., according to trial testimony.
Ungard was subject at the time to charges by the state attorney general alleging misappropriation of property by Ungard when he was superior officer in charge of the Lycoming County Drug Task Force. Ungard was convicted in 2011 and appeals continue in that case.
“The Ungard investigation was before I took office,” Foresman said. “I don’t know Rodgers or Ungard’s motivation behind talking with the Shreys.”
Testimony revealed some county investigators dislike Kontz.
Kontz’ attorney David J. MacMain said the verdict against his client would confirm a conspiracy and that the agent was a liar and a thief.
“Give him back his reputation,” MacMain said before jurors deliberated.
Then, there’s Kontz’s record. He worked together with city police Agent Leonard Dincher to gather evidence used by Linhardt to convict drug dealer Maurice Patterson, who was sent to death row for orchestrating the slaying of a man in an alley near High Street while in prison.
Kontz helped to resolve a recent homicide on Seventh Avenue earlier this year and has been recipient of the annual officer of the year award.
“My job is to make sure this negative issue doesn’t keep reflecting on the department,” Foresman said. “It wasn’t the decision we were hoping for, but it is what it is and we’re looking to learn from our mistakes and move on.”