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Middletown approves settlement with police officer suspended after going to church on duty

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/30/18

Middletown Borough Council on March 19 approved a settlement with now-former borough Police Officer Mark Hovan, by which Hovan has dropped his appeal to the Civil Service Commission of a 10-day …

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Middletown approves settlement with police officer suspended after going to church on duty

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Middletown Borough Council on March 19 approved a settlement with Mark Hovan, by which Hovan has dropped his appeal to the Civil Service Commission of a 10-day suspension received as a result of him going to church while on duty when he was a borough police officer.

In return for dropping his appeal, the settlement calls for the borough to pay Hovan $2,091.04, an amount equal to seven days of pay at Hovan’s base pay rate at the time of the suspension, according to the settlement, a copy of which the Press & Journal obtained from the borough after submitting a Right to Know request.

The $2,091.04 is subject to all applicable taxes and withholdings. The borough has also accepted Hovan’s retirement effective Feb. 28, according to the settlement.

Hovan did not return a request for comment for this article.

Police Chief George Mouchette did, telling the Press & Journal by email “Only that I wish him the best in his retirement.”

Besides dropping the appeal of his suspension, the settlement resolves “any and all claims” Hovan might have regarding his employment or the termination of that employment. The settlement is also to prevent the borough from bringing any future legal action against Hovan.

However, the settlement does not preclude Hovan’s “right” to “file a charge or complaint with any appropriate federal, state or local agency,” according to the document.

Council approved the settlement 4-1 with one abstention, following a closed-door executive session.

Council Vice President Dawn Knull voted against the settlement and declined comment when contacted by the Press & Journal.

Council member Jenny Miller abstained and did not return a call seeking comment. Her son is a full-time Middletown police officer.

Voting in favor were Council President Damon Suglia and councilors Ben Kapenstein, Ian Reddinger and Robert Reid.

Council on Dec. 5 approved suspending Hovan for 10 days on the recommendation of Mouchette. Mayor James H. Curry III said he supported the recommendation.

Mouchette recommended suspending Hovan following an internal investigation ordered by the chief after Hovan admitted to going to church while on duty at Seven Sorrows in Middletown on Aug. 15, 2017.

Hovan after attending church while on duty at Seven Sorrows on Jan. 8, 2017 received a letter from Mouchette the same day, in which the chief told Hovan he was no longer to attend church while on duty and was to “never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time,” according to an account Hovan provided to the Press & Journal.

Hovan claimed the suspension was an illegal infringement of his constitutional right to practice freedom of religion.

Mouchette countered that the suspension was never about Hovan going to church while on duty, but instead about Hovan having disobeyed a direct order from the chief.

“He (Hovan) was specifically told that if the needs of the community and the department allowed he could attend church,” Mouchette said at the time. “He was previously advised that if he was required to attend church services during his shift, he needed to request appropriate time off to attend.”

Hovan never requested the time off, Mouchette said.

Hovan, who describes himself as a devout Catholic, said that he at times had no choice but to go to church on duty in order to not miss any Holy Days of Obligation.

Hovan said that chiefs before Mouchette had allowed him and other officers to attend church on duty, and some chiefs had even encouraged the practice as a way of improving community relations.

Hovan told the Press & Journal that he always wore his radio and had it on while attending church on duty, and that he had never missed a call.

Hovan served the 10-day suspension in January, returning to duty Jan. 21. However, some time before completing his suspension Hovan appealed the suspension by requesting a public hearing before the Civil Service Commission.

The commission on Jan. 19 authorized hiring an attorney who was to be paid $185 an hour by the borough to represent the commission in the Hovan matter. Hovan had told the Press & Journal he would be represented by an attorney paid for by the Fraternal Order of Police.

That was the last publicly heard on the matter until March 12, when the Press & Journal received an email from borough police spokesman Officer Mark Laudenslager confirming that Hovan was retiring.

According to the settlement, Hovan’s last work day with the police department was Feb. 19. He took paid leave to be off from Feb. 22 until Feb. 28.

The settlement says that the borough will pay Hovan the balance of his accrued but unused sick time (680 hours), 26 hours in compensatory time, and 436.5 hours in vacation time according to the collective bargaining agreement between the borough and the Middletown Borough Police Officers’ Association.

The settlement does not provide a total dollar figure for the money owed Hovan under the collective bargaining agreement. However, the settlement requires the amount owed Hovan be offset by $64 for which the settlement says Hovan was overpaid from August 2017 through Dec. 31, 2017.

Hovan is also eligible for retiree health care benefits as specified in the collective bargaining agreement, as well as to participate in the borough police pension plan.

Hovan had 20 years with the Middletown police department.

He previously was a Dauphin County probation officer for five years. He served two years of active duty in the U.S. Army and nine years in the Army Reserves as an infantry captain.

Hovan started in Middletown as a patrol officer, later becoming a K-9 officer and a detective before June 2012, when Hovan was made department chief to replace David Sweitzer, who had served as acting chief after Keith Reismiller retired.

Hovan served as chief for six months until he resigned from the position in January 2013.