Watsontown mayor sued in federal court by borough police chief

Watsontown police chief Dennis Derr has filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. Middle District Court against borough Mayor David Hontz and former borough employee Scott Winters.

Derr’s lawsuit claims his constitutional rights of free speech and due process were violated and that a conspiracy occurred between Hontz and Winters, the borough’s former public works supervisor.

Derr alleged he witnessed Winters displaying violent tendencies while at work and approached council as a private resident, not as a police officer, according to the lawsuit.

Winters was first placed on a paid leave of absence and subsequently fired Feb. 11, for failing to comply with the terms and conditions of his leave, according to Michael J. Zicolello, Derr’s attorney.

Hontz suspended Derr without pay in what Derr alleged was a retaliation, Zicolello said. Derr was given a letter Feb. 17 indicating the suspension was effective immediately.

Council has since reinstated Derr to his former position.

Derr said he was prompted to respond to council about Winters after reading a pamphlet sent in the mail from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It showed ways to identify and prevent workplace shootings and indicators of those prone toward workplace violence.

Derr is seeking a jury trial, judgment in excess of $75,000, costs and attorney’s fees, punitive damages, restoration of lost wages during his suspension and any relief deemed appropriate by a court judge or jury.

A trial date has not been scheduled.