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Middletown council approves 10-day suspension of borough police officer

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 12/6/17

A 10-day suspension for allegedly going to church while on duty is being imposed upon a nearly 20-year veteran of the Middletown police department.Council following a closed-door executive session …

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Middletown council approves 10-day suspension of borough police officer

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A 10-day suspension for allegedly going to church while on duty is being imposed upon a nearly 20-year veteran of the Middletown police department.

Council following a closed-door executive session approved the suspension of Patrol Officer Mark Hovan, who has been with the department since 1998.

Council approved the suspension on the recommendation of borough Police Chief George Mouchette, following an internal investigation that had been conducted by the department, according to a motion read by Councilor Ian Reddinger.

Council approved the suspension by 4 to 1 vote, with Councilor Diana McGlone abstaining on what she said was the “advice” of Solicitor Adam Santucci.

McGlone did not respond to a request for additional comment from the Press & Journal after the meeting.

Voting no was Councilor Robert Reid, who as the borough’s former long-time mayor had been in charge of the police department for many years.

“I think there should be some action taken, but I can’t go along with the 10 days,” Reid said.

The only other councilor commenting was Ben Kapenstein, who said his vote to support the 10-day suspension is “because the chief sees the day to day, I go with what he recommends.”

The motion did not say whether the suspension is with or without pay.

Mouchette was not at the meeting and did not respond to a request from the Press & Journal for comment.

James H. Curry III, who as borough mayor has been in charge of the police department since coming into office in January 2014, declined comment after the vote except to say “I agree with the recommendation” from Mouchette.

Santucci also would not answer any questions, saying the suspension is a “personnel matter.”

While neither council nor officials would provide details regarding the suspension, Hovan had told the Press & Journal earlier that he had received a letter from Mouchette on Oct. 27, 2017.

The letter advised Hovan that he was to meet with Mouchette on Nov. 7 to “afford you the opportunity to respond to the following charges.”

The letter detailed four charges of Neglect of Duty/Inefficiency, all related to Hovan attending church while on duty on Aug. 15, 2017.

Hovan told the Press & Journal that he had been going to church while on duty throughout his tenure with the MPD.

Hovan, who said he is a devout Catholic, said it was necessary at times because of shift changes for him to go to church while on duty on occasion, so he could fulfill his duties to attend “Holy Days of Obligation” such as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Hovan said he kept his radio with him and that he had never missed a call while attending church on duty in uniform.

He contended that his going to church while on duty had never been an issue with the department until shortly after Mouchette arrived in early January, 2017. Hovan said that the chief called him into his office after Hovan had attended a 10:30 a.m. mass at Seven Sorrows in Middletown on Jan. 8, 2017.

According to Hovan, Mouchette gave Hovan a letter saying he was no longer permitted to attend church while on duty, and that he was to “never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time.”

Months later Hovan said that Mouchette called him in again, this time to confront Hovan about again attending church services while on duty on Aug. 15.

“I never lied about it,” Hovan said, acknowledging that he had disobeyed a direct order from Mouchette to no longer attend church while on duty.

Between then and Mouchette’s Oct. 27 letter, an officer with the department conducted an internal investigation in which Hovan said he was represented by a member of the Middletown Police Association.

Hovan during the earlier interview told the Press & Journal that his constitutional right to practice freedom of religion was being “infringed upon” by the chief, adding “they (the department) made no accommodation at all for me.”

Hovan also suggested the punishment was related to him being current president of the police association.

Curry and Santucci both declined to address these objections from Hovan following council’s vote.

Hovan did not respond to a request for additional comment from the Press & Journal, following council’s decision to suspend him for 10 days.

Hovan was an MPD detective in June 2012 when council promoted him to chief to replace acting Chief David Sweitzer.

Hovan served as chief for six months until resigning from the position in January, 2013.

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