Challenge to dismiss former assistant police chief’s lawsuit denied

A motion by defendants to dismiss a lawsuit by a former Williamsport Assistant Police Chief has been denied in federal court.

Timothy Miller, the plaintiff in the case, alleges seven counts against the defendants, including defamation and whistleblower law claims.

The defendants are Steven Helm, a Williamsport police officer; Bill Hall, a former city councilman; city councilwoman Liz Miele; as well as the city and the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 29, according to court papers.

Miller, now police chief of Sunbury, filed the complaint in Lycoming County Court in August, but the suit was later removed to U.S. Middle District Court.

According to court papers, Miller alleges a first amendment retaliation claim against Helm, Hall and Miele. He also brought a due process clause claim, a conspiracy claim, and a Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law claim against the three defendants and the city.

Other counts are a duty of fair representation claim brought against Helm and FOP Lodge 29 and defamation claims against Helm and Miele.

In September, the defendants moved to dismiss Miller’s complaint. Miller subsequently filed oppositions to these motions the following month, while also withdrawing his due process clause claim and his conspiracy claim.

The memorandum opinion written by Judge Matthew W. Brann reveals events leading to the lawsuit, including a meeting between Miller and Hall, then a city mayoral candidate. Hall indicated to Miller that should he win the election, Miller would be on his short list of candidates for police chief.

“Mr. Miller alleges that Mr. Hall sought Mr. Miller’s political support via ‘threat,'” according to the document. Miller allegedly replied that he did not want or need the chief of police position.

The opinion noted a statement allegedly made by Helm that Miller prevented his son, Sheldon, from being hired as a city police officer and vowing to “to do what he had to to make this right.” Miller later testified during an executive session of city council about alleged improprieties in Sheldon Helm’s hiring process with council eventually concluding that no foul play occurred.

Also noted in the opinion was a post on social media indicating Hall’s intent to eliminate the position of assistant city police chief and subsequent contacts by the media to Miller about being “sent back to the ranks.”

“Mr. Miller believed that these actions were in response to Mr. Miller’s refusal to support Mr. Hall in his mayoral bid,” according to the opinion.

The opinion further noted Miele’s comments to a newspaper of Miller being “mentally unstable and not fit to be a police chief” after he began working part-time for the Sunbury Police Department. It refers to information taken from Miller’s personnel file and posted on social media regarding his seeking psychological counseling after being threatened by Hall and under constant pressure from the media as a result of his association with Mayor Gabriel Campana and Police Chief Gregory Foresman.