Gilpin couple sues Leechburg police chief, state trooper
A Gilpin couple filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming Leechburg's police chief and a state police corporal conspired to illegally prosecute the couple in retaliation for complaints the couple made about the Leechburg Police Department.
In the suit filed in Armstrong County Court, Dennis and Jamie Kreashko claim Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold and state police Cpl. Dan Herr filed harassment and stalking charges against the Kreashkos, even though the county district attorney's office not only advised that the charges be withdrawn but refused to prosecute the case. The suit claims the charges violated the Kreashkos' First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Craig Alexander, the Kreashkos' attorney, said the lawsuit stems from Diebold's refusal to investigate an incident in 2008, when, the Kreashkos claim, their son was forced into a vehicle against his will by two adults and taken to the Leechburg police station. The men were not police officers.
Dennis Kreashko said his then 11-year-old son was walking with two friends to a convenience store around Halloween 2008 when one of the three smashed some pumpkins outside a residence in Leechburg. He said two men in their 30s saw it and went after the boys.
“These two dudes decide to be superheroes,” Kreashko said, adding that they physically forced the boys into their vehicle.
“They took them for a little ride and didn't tell them where they were taking them, trying to scare them, but they wound up at the police station,” he said.
Kreashko said that action was improper and the two men should have called the boys' parents. He said he was particularly concerned because his son had just had surgery on his finger and could have reinjured it.
He said he wanted police to file charges against the men but they refused.
“They never got an explanation,” Alexander said. “They never got a satisfactory explanation.”
Kreashko said he and his wife decided to file private criminal complaints against the men. Alexander said those complaints “just sat on desks for years,” as the police refused to act on them.
The lack of action on the private complaints led the Kreashkos to complain about Diebold and the police to local officials and the state police, Alexander said.
When asked if he had anything to say about the lawsuit, Diebold said: “Not really. It has been handed over to the borough's attorney, and it will be handled accordingly.”
Diebold did say he believes the whole situation stems from a traffic citation that he issued to Dennis Kreashko in 2008, which he said involved failure to obey the flashing red stop signals on a school bus.
Attempts were made to contact Herr at the Butler state police barracks, where he is now stationed, but messages from the Valley News Dispatch seeking comment were not returned.
DA chose not to prosecute
Ultimately, claims the suit, Diebold and Herr prosecuted the harassment and stalking charges against the Kreashkos without the aid of the district attorney's office, but the charges were dismissed by a district judge.
“The district attorney's office was provided an (court) opinion that the case law is very clear that these types of complaints are not actionable by criminal charges,” Alexander said. “That's why the district attorney did not participate in the final hearing of those charges, to his credit.”
“They've got a right to petition the police for proper investigation, and they've got a right to complain if they feel that investigation has not been performed without the fear of being charged criminally for exercising that right,” Alexander said.
Kreashko said he was unjustly charged, and the situation has cost him not only his time and money but it has also hurt his construction business.
“There are not small sums of money involved in the judicial system,“ he said. “They can screw people's lives up for real.”
The lawsuit asks for declaratory judgments that Diebold and Herr applied state law in an unconstitutional fashion and that the Leechburg Police Department and Diebold has “a custom, pattern, practice and/or policy of applying (the law) in an unconstitutional manner to retaliate against, and chill, citizens' First Amendment free speech rights.”
It also asks for unspecified monetary damages and punitive damages against Diebold and Herr. Finally, it asks for reimbursement of costs, expenses and legal fees.
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.