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Uncertainty looming over borough police: Editorial

Posted 9/4/19

Uncertainty has hung over the Middletown Police Department for more than a year.

For the good of the department, the borough and all its residents and businesses, we hope it ends soon.

It …

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Uncertainty looming over borough police: Editorial

Posted

Uncertainty has hung over the Middletown Police Department for more than a year.

For the good of the department, the borough and all its residents and businesses, we hope it ends soon.

It started Aug. 21, 2018, when Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette was charged with aggravated indecent assault without consent, criminal attempt of rape and unlawful restraint following an incident that allegedly occurred in his office in the borough police station eight days earlier.

He is suspended without pay, and Sgt. Dennis Morris is serving as interim chief.

But, as Mayor James H. Curry III pointed out at a recent Middletown Borough Council meeting, Mouchette is still the chief. And that fact has led to a great deal of the uncertainty, including a re-opening of talks with other area police departments to at the very least share some resources. The borough basically can’t do anything until Mouchette’s case is resolved.

Also, depending on whom you ask, Morris wants out.

“Sgt. Morris did not ask to be appointed interim chief. He was thrust unexpectedly into that role,” Curry said at the Aug. 20 council meeting.

Later in the meeting, Curry claimed Morris has “asked to be removed as interim chief countless times.” But the police association in an Aug. 6 post on its Facebook page said that Morris had sent a letter to both Curry and to council, “that he would gladly continue in this role continuing to serve the community until they could do a search” for a full-time chief.

Curry picked Morris to be interim chief because Morris was “the most senior sergeant” on the force at the time of Mouchette’s suspension. We don’t blame him if he indeed does want to step down as being interim chief. We doubt he expected it to last nearly 13 months.

That brings us to Mouchette.

Every American has a right to a vigorous defense of charges brought against them. We realize this can take time. But we are anxious to have some resolution to Mouchette’s case.

Mouchette, 49, is to appear before Dauphin County Court Judge William T. Tully at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 23, after legal proceedings against him were continued for a third time in June. He remains free after having posted $25,000 bail on Aug. 21, 2018.

Defense attorney Kristen Leigh Weisenberger of Perry Shore Weisenberger & Zemlock in Harrisburg filed the request for continuation June 19.

“Plea Court Continued — Defendant Not Ready,” the online records state.

We are not privy to details of this case, of course. And it’s difficult to compare legal actions in disparate cases. But think about the case of truck driver Jack Edward Satterfield of McComb, Mississippi. He will serve 28 1/2 to 63 years in prison for the fiery crash last fall that killed three people, including a father and his child who lived in Middletown.

That crash happened Oct. 12, 2018 — nearly two months after Mouchette was charged. Satterfield has already been tried, convicted and sentenced.

We urge Mouchette to move ahead with his legal proceedings if at all possible later this month, because until his case is resolved, there will be no clear direction for the department.

The waters were muddied further in July when the Middletown Police Association posted on Facebook that the borough was considering disbanding the department. That might not have been totally true, although what is clear is that Curry wanted Steelton’s police chief, Anthony Minium, to run the Middletown police department on an interim basis.

The mayor and the borough council have every right to seek out such agreements.

However, we agree with Kenton Whitebread Sr., a Middletown resident who recently retired as a police officer with the Northwest Regional Police Department in Lancaster County. At the Aug. 20 council meeting, he called for more openness when it comes to any discussions of regionalizing police.

In our view, that openness has been lacking.

Let’s see what happens Sept. 23. We hope to get some idea as to how long Mouchette’s case will take to resolve itself. If he is found not guilty or a deal is worked out in which he keeps his job, then move on. If he loses his job and the search starts for a new chief, then we hope the mayor and the borough take a transparent approach and keep the residents up to date on the hiring process.