Former Williamsport police officer held over on all charges
He allegedly called women “hot” to a police intern.
He allegedly sent a lewd photograph of himself while working as a city police officer.
Eric Derr, of Cogan Station, a former city police officer accused of abusing his position using a justice computer system to access women’s personal information, allegedly asking a police intern if he thought the women were “hot,” will face a criminal trial, a district judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Jeffrey Rowe, following testimony in the preliminary hearing for Derr, said he believed the state Attorney General office prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General Rebecca A. Elo, had presented enough evidence for him to rule all 28 criminal counts be held for court and trial, presumably in Lycoming County, but not necessarily.
The charges against Derr, who was represented in court by Robert Hoffa, a city attorney, are unlawful use of a computer over a period of five years in which he allegedly ran what is known as J-NET checks on 28 different women while he was on-duty and off-duty.
Elo presented her first witness, Billie Strickler, who testified to knowing Derr and identified Derr in court. Strickler’s sister, Raven, married Derr in 2017 after meeting in 2013.
During the summer of 2015, the family, including Derr, were vacationing at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Strickler recalled it was June 14, 2015, when Derr, using his cell phone, “looked up her aunt, Jamie Noll.”
A photograph of Noll was displayed along with Noll’s driver’s license.
Hoffa asked Strickler if Noll was present and saw the license.
City police Capt. Jason Bolt testified that Derr worked as a patrol officer and as a corporal from 2013 through 2020.
Bolt, as a former police agent assigned to assist a lieutenant with internal investigation, said the investigation of Derr began in early 2020. The case initially was assigned to Lt. Steven Helm, supervisor on the day watch shift. Bolt, however, has proficiency with technology.
The investigation began when a complaint was lodged in early 2020 that Derr was utilizing the J-NET system when he was on vacation and showed that accessibility to family and friends.
J-NET is a justice network consisting of special information such as state driver records, criminal histories, and only for those certified to be able to use it for law enforcement purposes.
“Every officer in the city has access to it,” Bolt said. However, the system is for criminal investigation and not to be used for personal use and only used under special circumstances.
Bolt testified that Derr had completed the certification and that each log-in included a user-agreement section.
Elo showed Bolt the standard J-NET user agreement and it indicated a user was to use it for official purposes only and it not be used for personal use under any circumstances unrelated to criminal investigation.
Elo gave examples to Bolt of such agreements dated 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2019.
At this point, Hoffa objected asking how Bolt was able to determine that was done outside of his work shift.
Bolt said the investigators “looked for patterns of what we did not think was official use and compiled the data.” Noll’s name was run on June 14, 2015. Hoffa objected as to proof of whether that was run by Derr but Rowe overruled the objection.
Bolt indicated there were instances of number of abuses including those done on Derr’s co-workers and wives of co-workers.
“We did not find any legitimate criminal justice purposes for running those individuals,” Bolt said. “I did not find any.”
Hoffa asked when the complaint regarding the use of J-NET was filed, and it was determined that began in spring 2020.
“Who made the complaint?” Hoffa asked, to which Bolt said, “A family member of Derr’s wife.”
Hoffa asked Bolt if an officer can download the program once he or she has signed onto it.
“Negative,” Bolt said.
But Hoffa asked Bolt if the information could be accessed using a police web-base system in a patrol car. He also asked Bolt who trained Derr on the J-NET system and when, assuming it was done in 2013.
Bolt said there were individuals from J-NET who trained police at least one time. The work was done for recertification and update processes.
“You have to recertify every set number of years?” Hoffa asked Bolt.
Bolt acknowledged, through Hoffa’s questions, that it would not be unusual for a police partner in the car to use it.
“It’s not uncommon for one person to sign on and another request it?” Hoffa asked. Bolt said that occurred when he was with a former and now retired agent.
Hoffa asked about the computer system user agreements and how they have changed over the years.
But Bolt said the user must acknowledge that he or she will not use it for personal information unrelated to justice investigation.
Hoffa said prior to 2016 it was different. A two-factor authorization came up later, he said.
Bolt was asked if the police records management system, Spillman, could provide similar data.
“I can use Spillman to get PennDOT and criminal justice records, right?” Hoffa asked. He also said prior to 2015 if the police received any notification of improper usage by Derr of the J-NET.
“Any complaints?” Hoffa asked.
“No,” Bolt said, “just the one received in 2020.”
“Were you aware of any other investigation?” Hoffa asked.
“I personally was not aware of any other investigation,” Bolt said.
Hoffa asked Bolt if Derr had trained other officers in the J-NET usage. Bolt said he was aware Derr was a training officer.
Elo asked Bolt if training officers were instructed to view people they know.
“I can’t answer that because I was not a training officer,” Bolt said.
Elo asked Bolt if there were additional instances where Derr is not on duty and used the system.
“Numerous,” Bolt said. “Yes, there are a lot.”
“What about PennDOT are there additional warnings when accessing PennDOT information?” Elo asked.
“Once granted access go to driver’s records there is another warning that is brought up,” Bolt said.
Bolt admitted police can use the Spillman records-management system and not J-NET and that is used for officers in the field when they are doing official investigations.
David Scicchitano, special agent Bureau of Criminal Investigation for the Attorney General Josh Shapiro, testified to speaking to Logan Chetaitis, a police officer in York, who was during the time with Derr a city police intern.
While with Derr in a parking lot, in a conversation unrelated to any traffic stop or criminal investigation, Derr allegedly showed Chetaitis, pictures of women and asked the student if he thought the pictures were hot.
Hoffa argued that was not relevant to elements of the alleged offenses.
He said the officer pursuing other women and kissing and touching other women was an offense.
“There is more to it than authorize or access exceeds authorization,” Hoffa said. “There is no criminal intent.”
Elo said that was a “misinterpretation of the statute, and Derr allegedly exceeded authorization to access J-NET systems or PennDOT and did so without authorization and on at least 20 or more women.
Rowe said he read the copy of the jury instructions in anticipation of a statutory interpretation argument from the counselors.
“Frankly, I found the jury instructions to be persuasive, not definitive,” Rowe said. “I am inclined to agree with the state interpretation of the statute and hold all 28 counts for court to be tried.”