Published Date Written by Dan Miller
The Dauphin County District Attorney's office has decided it will not file charges in the confrontation between Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III and Chris Courogen, the borough's director of communications, that happened after a Borough Council meeting on Monday, July 7.
Charges will not be filed because "alleged physical contact'' during the confrontation was "minimal,'' District Attorney Ed Marsico said on Thursday, July 10, and because Curry "indicated that his purpose in reporting'' the incident "was not so much to have charges filed, but to have (it) on the record.''
"We felt a prosecution was not in the public interest," Marsico said.
Curry told The Press And Journal that Courogen touched him "in a threatening manner" during an argument between the two officials that broke out shortly after the conclusion of the meeting.
"He did not punch me or slap me. I felt it was a physical manifestation of intimidation,'' Curry said. "I did not think it was appropriate and this is why it was documented."
Courogen repeatedly denied that there had been any physical contact between himself and the mayor.
"There was no physical contact. He said, 'Go ahead, hit me, go ahead, hit me,' " Courogen said of Curry. "He is the one who escalated it. He started raising his voice, he called me a waste, a waste of borough resources, worthless. I wished that I had the patience of Job and could just stand there and take that abuse."
Courogen accused Curry of exploiting the incident for the mayor's own "political gain," noting that Curry contacted the Press and Journal regarding what had happened the morning after while the situation was still under investigation.
"If the mayor really cared about this town he would have resolved this thing internally. Instead his first thing was to call the media and give the town a black eye,'' Courogen said. "That's not how you do things in a civilized society."
One of two other people who witnessed the argument said there was physical contact during the confrontation. Rachelle Reid, a former borough councilor who was at Monday night's council meeting, said she saw Courogen bump the mayor with his chest and with an arm that was in a sling. Reid said Curry at that point backed up, threw up his hands, and told Courogen, "I'm done."
According to Reid, Courogen continued after Curry and began pointing his other hand – the one not in a sling – in the mayor's face.
"At several times I thought he was going to punch Jim in the face, because of the way he held his hand,'' Reid said. "He was very irate and, in my opinion, out of control."
The incident was also witnessed by Borough Secretary Amy Friday. Friday refused to comment when contacted Thursday by the Press And Journal, and said any media inquiries would have to go through Courogen.
Curry said Thursday that his intent in having the incident reported to police was not to have charges filed against Courogen, but to ensure that the incident "is memorialized on paper."
The incident was initially reported to Middletown police Monday night. After taking statements from those involved, police passed the investigation to Marsico's office on Tuesday, July 8 to avoid a conflict of interest. Curry said he knew that Middletown police would not be able to investigate the incident because part of Curry's duties as mayor is to supervise the police department.
The incident is not over despite the District Attorney's finding.
Courogen said he has filed an internal administrative complaint against the mayor, based upon procedures spelled out in a borough policy regarding the harassment of employees. Courogen also said he is discussing the situation with his lawyer "regarding any action outside of the internal harassment policy" that should be taken against the mayor regarding the incident.
"He abused his power as head of the police department for political purposes," Courogen said. "All he was trying to do was create an incident to stain my reputation, to defame me and to tarnish me for his political gain."
Curry said Thursday that he knew nothing of Courogen's administrative complaint against him, other than what the mayor had read on Pennlive. "If an internal investigation will be conducted I will cooperate with it, and I look forward to doing so,'' Curry said.
Regardless of the outcome, can the mayor and borough communications director have an effective working relationship going forward, given what happened?
"Absolutely," Curry said. "Anybody can disagree with anybody. That happens day in and day out. The problem is when it becomes physical. That's when there is an issue. I certainly can do my job and Mr. Courogen can do his job. So long as that line is not crossed I see no issue."
Said Courogen, "I think we can have a working relationship, but the mayor needs to know his role in borough government. He's not Frank Rizzo, and this is not the City of Philadelphia."
"I was a big supporter of him when he was running," Courogen said of Curry. "I'm willing to accept that he's new to government and he is still learning how things work."