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Ex-Gilpin officers involved in 2nd lawsuit

Mary Ann Thomas
| Saturday, May 3, 2014, 12:36 a.m.
Dan Clark is the former Gilpin police chief.
Dan Clark is the former Gilpin police chief.
Ralph Varrato is a former Gilpin police officer.
Ralph Varrato is a former Gilpin police officer.
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 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 Staff writer Chuck Biedka contributed to this report.

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