Share This Page

Ex-Gilpin officers involved in 2nd lawsuit

| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 12:36 a.m.
Submitted
Dan Clark is the former Gilpin police chief.
Ralph Varrato is a former Gilpin police officer.
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.

Within a week's time, a second federal lawsuit has been filed involving Gilpin's ex-police chief and another former police officer.

This time, however, it's the former officers who are being sued.

Gilpin residents Clifford and Stephanie Simon filed a complaint in federal court in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, alleging that the two policemen violated their civil rights.

The Simons' lawsuit stems from a May 1, 2012, incident in which then-police Chief Daniel G. Clark Sr. entered the Simons' property, “without observing any evidence of any violation in plain view,” according to the lawsuit.

Former Officer Ralph D. Varrato also “unlawfully” entered the couple's property on Aug. 13, 2012, the lawsuit claims.

Clark allegedly confronted Stephanie Simon and accused her of running a business on the property. When she denied the allegation, according to the lawsuit, Clark allegedly said, “I have a short fuse for people who don't cooperate with me.”

Clark went on to cite the woman for storage of unregistered vehicles; later last year, District Judge James Andring found Simon not guilty.

In 2011, Clark wrote up Simon's husband for the same charges, which also were dismissed by Andring, according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, Clark provided “false information” to the township's zoning hearing officer on the condition of their properties and alleged activities, according to the lawsuit.

The prosecutions were “motivated by personal malice and without probable cause” and were based on the police chief's friendship with a former associate of Clifford Simon who was involved in disputes with Simon at that time, according to the lawsuit.

The Simons went on to present Clark with photos of other people's properties containing vehicles and other items, but Clark has never issued any citations against those property owners, according to the lawsuit.

Clark encouraged Varrato, his patrolman at the time, to violate the Simons' civil rights, according to the lawsuit.

Varrato filed a “false” criminal complaint on Aug. 20, 2012, alleging that the couple was illegally storing vehicles on their property; Andring found the couple not guilty.

Varrato went on to contact state environmental authorities, accusing the Simons of illegally dumping drywall and, in another incident, failing to have their dog under control, according to the lawsuit.

Andring found the couple not guilty in both cases, according to the suit.

Police sued township

In the earlier federal lawsuit, which was made public on April 25, Clark, now of Sigel, Jefferson County, and Varrato of Shuster Hollow Road, Gilpin, are seeking back pay, benefits, legal fees and punitive damages from the township and supervisors.

Gilpin officials have not released an explanation as to why both men were suspended.

However, supervisors searched the police chief's office on Nov. 26 and confiscated unspecified items from the office and its computers.

Clark and Varrato's lawsuit asserts that the search violated the men's constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure.

Both have since been replaced on the force.

It's unclear whether there is any direct connection between the two federal lawsuits.

Gilpin's solicitor, James Favero, wasn't available for comment on Thursday or Friday.It's unclear who is representing Clark and Varrato in the Simons' lawsuit.

Attorney Lawrence Kerr, who is representing Clark and Varrato in their lawsuit against the township and officials, said the township's insurance company will likely supply an attorney to defend the men in the Simons' lawsuit.

Kerr said the township is in an unusual position of defending the two men they are accused of improperly letting go.

Clark and Varrato didn't reply to messages seeking comment.

Mary Ann Thomas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or mthomas@tribweb.com. Staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.