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Questions on police shakeup go unanswered in Gilpin

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 1:41 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Gilpin Township resident Stephanie Simon and her husband, Clifford, get into a heated debate with supervisors at the township meeting on Monday, December 9, 2013.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Gilpin Township Supervisor Janine Remaley, right, listens to supervisor Christine Pastiva during a meeting on Monday, December 9, 2013.
Ralph Varrato is a former Gilpin police officer.
Submitted
Dan Clark is the former Gilpin police chief.

Gilpin's police chief and temporary officer in charge are suspended, but the township still has police coverage.

The township's nearly 2,500 residents have been protected by three part-time officers and state troopers since Chief Dan Clark and temporary Officer in Charge Ralph Varrato, both of Gilpin, were suspended, supervisors said.

Supervisors said they intend to hire two to three part-time officers and take steps to restore direct computer access to the state's Justice Net. Until then, Gilpin officers will ask Armstrong County 911 to check license and other records for traffic stops or investigations.

Clark and Varrato had JNET access. Supervisors on Monday approved a contract for police computer maintenance and said they will work to get all officers computer access.

Clark and Varrato didn't attend Monday's meeting. Varrato's wife, Robin, who is a Gilpin supervisor, didn't attend the meeting because she is recovering from surgery, supervisors Chairwoman Janine Remaley said.

According to township records, Clark was hired in 2000 and became chief in 2004. He has been on sick leave since Sept. 16 and was suspended Dec. 2.

In October, supervisors appointed Varrato as temporary officer in charge, pending Clark's return to duty.

Varrato was suspended Nov. 25 for “failure to execute duties.”

Supervisors wouldn't explain what that means.

Clark was suspended because of the “condition of the police station,” and the alleged “inability” of officers to get into the evidence locker, failure to provide “requested information” and unspecified “actions of the chief of police,” supervisors said in a statement read by Remaley.

Supervisors refused to provide details because that might interfere with the “pending investigation” by state police and the Armstrong County District Attorney's office.

In a text message, Clark declined comment. Ralph Varrato didn't reply to numerous phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

Remaley said supervisors held a special meeting on Nov. 25 to discuss problems involving the police department.

After an executive session, the board voted to remove Robin Varrato as police commissioner and Remaley assumed those duties.

At the same meeting, Ralph Varrato was removed as temporary officer in charge — a job he held about one month — and he was suspended.

Keys not turned in

Remaley said Varrato didn't return all keys to the police department when he was suspended. So, on Nov. 26, the township's clerk-treasurer and a police officer accompanied Remaley when the police office door was forcibly opened, Remaley said.

In a text message sent well before Monday, Clark asked why supervisors broke into the police office and saw classified information.

According to state police, troopers received a phone call at about 5 p.m. Nov. 26 about a burglary at the Gilpin Township Building. A state police corporal said the alleged burglary report was still under investigation Monday.

Three days after that burglary call, supervisors decided at a special meeting to suspend Clark.

Preliminary budget passed

Supervisors also approved a tentative 2014 budget that maintains taxes at 6.25 mills.

The approximately $675,000 spending plan, largely the same as this year's, is scheduled for final adoption at the supervisors' Dec. 30 meeting.

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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