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Constables’ lawsuits dismissed in both county, federal courts

Lawsuits brought by two constables against Lycoming County Sheriff Mark Lusk alleging he abused his power by not giving them work have been denied.

Chad Riley, one of the plaintiffs in the case, made it clear he is unsatisfied with the rulings handed down in Lycoming County Court and federal court.

Elected officials in high positions, he said, should not be allowed to do what they want without repercussions and be “completely immune to any lawsuits, which is mind boggling to me and undermines our democracy.”

Riley unsuccessfully ran against Lusk for sheriff in 2017. In Riley’s complaint, he alleges that Lusk communicated to him, constables supporting him and district magistrates that constables would no longer be getting any work from the sheriff’s office.

Riley and Mark Phillips, a constable and co-plaintiff, contended that Lusk had no authority over constables or to limit their work through the magistrates.

Potter County Senior Judge John Leete, who presided over the case in Lycoming County Court, denied the plaintiffs’ motions.

He ruled that Lusk is protected from lawsuits “arising in the course of his official duties and within the scope of his authority as sheriff.”

The judge also ruled that Riley and Phillips failed to “establish a malicious element to Defendant Lusk’s alleged statements” and that statements materially affected the plaintiff’s work assignments.

The judge’s ruling also made note of the fact that Lycoming County has no written rule regarding the organization of constables.

He referred to witness testimony from Lycoming County Judge Nancy Butts.

Butts said she neither granted any authority to, nor took any authority away from, the sheriff with respect to supervising and managing constables.

“I would only get involved in constable matters if there was some sort of problem between the sheriff and the MDJs that could not be solved without my intervention,” Butts stated. “Otherwise, I let the sheriff and MDJs work out any issues they may have had amongst themselves.”

Riley questioned why constables were let go or terminated without doing anything wrong. He stated the lawsuit “rides on the fact that the sheriff fired us for unjustified reasons.”

The plaintiffs have been given 30 days from Monday’s ruling to come back with a more specific pleading.

U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann ruled last week that the plaintiffs failed to show Lusk violated their free political speech by not allowing them to serve warrants.

Riley made it clear he plans to appeal the rulings.

Through a spokeswoman at the sheriff’s office, Lusk declined comment on the matter at this time.