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Sexual assault case against Chief Mouchette moving ahead, prosecutor says

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/15/20

The Dauphin County prosecutor handling the sexual assault charges against Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette addressed the case during the public comment period of borough council’s Jan. …

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Sexual assault case against Chief Mouchette moving ahead, prosecutor says

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The Dauphin County prosecutor handling the sexual assault charges against Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette addressed the case during the public comment period of borough council’s Jan. 6 meeting.

“This case is scheduled for trial in February,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Gettle said. “I know there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not the charges are being dismissed or are not being pursued by the commonwealth.”

Mouchette’s case has been pending in county court since October 2018. The court has granted five motions for continuances, but a trial date now is set for Feb. 10 before Judge William T. Tully, according to online court records.

“We are pursuing those charges and we do expect that this case will proceed to a trial, unless Mr. Mouchette were of course to approach us about some type of agreement outside of a trial,” Gettle said.

Mouchette is still a borough employee, but  suspended without pay since August 2018 when he was charged with aggravated indecent assault without consent, criminal attempt-rape forcible compulsion, and unlawful restraint/serious bodily injury.

The day Mouchette was charged, Middletown Mayor James H. Curry III appointed Sgt. Dennis Morris interim police chief. Council shortly after ratified the appointment.

The DA’s Criminal Investigation Unit filed the charges following an investigation by the unit into an incident that allegedly occurred in Mouchette’s office in the police station Aug. 13, 2018.

According to arrest papers filed by unit investigators, Mouchette tried to rape a woman who had come to meet with him in his office.

The victim initially reported the incident to Curry, who referred it to the DA’s office for investigation.

Mouchette, 49, a retired New York City police detective, was appointed by Curry as Middletown’s interim police chief in January 2017 after Police Chief John Bey resigned in December 2016.

Council in August 2017 voted to make Mouchette permanent chief at an annual salary of $96,000.

As the borough continues to wait and see what will happen with Mouchette in court, council Nov. 19 voted unanimously to pursue replacing the police chief position with a public safety director.

Council at that time was awaiting submission of a job description for the public safety director from the borough solicitor, and no further public action has been taken by the council.

Gettle in her comments also addressed the importance of supporting victims of sexual assault, and preventing from public disclosure the identity of victims of sexual assault.

“In these types of circumstances anonymity is part of this process,” Gettle said. “All victims who come forward in a sexual assault case are guaranteed by our government that their identity will be precluded from public eye.”

“It is actually a crime in Pennsylvania to publish a victim’s name if they have been a victim of sexual assault in the newspapers because they are guaranteed anonymity. The reason for that is because we want to encourage victims to come forward. In these types of cases there is embarrassment to being a victim of a sexual assault, there is fear of retribution of being a victim of a sexual assault.”

However, Pennsylvania has no law that prohibits newspapers and the media from publishing the name of a victim of a sexual assault, according to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

“Such a law would be an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment,” Melewsky said in an email to the Press & Journal when asked about Gettle’s statement.

The Press & Journal asked Gettle on Tuesday for clarification about newspapers being charged with a crime if they identify a victim of sexual assault.

Gettle said in an email: “I should have qualified my statement that it can be a crime in some instances. In particular, if the victim is a minor under Title 42 Section 5988 or if the victim, who is now an adult, was a minor at the time of the sexual assault.”

However, the law Gettle references in her response does not apply to the media, but to the disclosure by “officers or employees of the court to the public” of the identity of a minor victim of sexual or physical abuse.

Gettle in her email said it is her understanding that “with adult victims, it is the professional integrity of the media to self-regulate whether victims names are disclosed.”

It is the policy of the Press & Journal not to identify such victims except in extremely rare cases, such as when the victim approves of being identified.

“Most news organizations do not name victims of sexual assault because they strive to prevent further harm to the individual and for some of the reasons stated by the ADA,” Melewsky said. “Media organizations have a constitutional right to name victims when circumstances demand, but most exercise that right very rarely.”

In her discussion of the Mouchette case at the Jan. 6 council meeting, Gettle went on to say: “I just want to remind everyone, everyone who will hear it, that we need to keep in mind that we need to support victims of sexual assault in every way that we can. We want to make them feel as though they will not be punished or they will not be reprimanded in any way or have any type of negativity fall upon them because they were a victim of a sexual assault.”

Asked to elaborate on her reasons for speaking before council, Gettle told the Press & Journal she would not comment beyond what she said during the public meeting.

Gettle would not say if her appearance before council was related to its recent public discussions concerning  another highly publicized sexual assault case, that involving Londonderry Township resident Keith Alan Hoffa, a convicted sex offender who was charged with multiple additional sexual assaults in March 2018.

Council in November voted to get rid of a Santa Claus house that  Hoffa had donated to the borough in 2016, after family members of one of Hoffa’s victims approached Council President Angela Lloyd with concerns over the borough continuing to use the structure.

In December, a woman who said she was the mother of the victim tried to tell council that the concerns over the Santa house were unfounded, but Lloyd would not let her speak because she was not a Middletown resident or taxpayer.

The victim’s identity was not made public by council during the meetings, or by the Press & Journal. The Press & Journal did not publish the mother’s name.

Hoffa on Dec. 11 was convicted following a three-day trial in Dauphin County Court on 21 charges of sexual molestation involving five underaged victims from 1995 to 2016. He is to be sentenced March 4.

The case against Hoffa was prosecuted by county Chief Deputy District Attorney Sean McCormack.