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Ligonier Borough fires police officer charged with threatening to kill ex-wife's husband

| Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, 3:45 p.m.
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Former Ligonier Borough police Cpl. Edward J. Huwalt faces charges including terroristic threats and harassment.

Ligonier Borough Council on Thursday fired a veteran borough police officer who is charged with pointing a handgun at his ex-wife's husband and threatening to kill him in a grocery store parking lot last month.

Council voted unanimously to terminate Cpl. Edward J. Huwalt, 61, who has worked for the borough for more than 30 years. Huwalt was arraigned Wednesday on charges of making terroristic threats, reckless endangerment and harassment filed by Westmoreland County detectives after an alleged incident Jan. 24 in the Giant Eagle parking lot on South Walnut Street in Ligonier.

“We're not happy about it, but it had to happen,” Ligonier Mayor Ormond “Butch” Bellas said of Huwalt's firing.

“It's a hard decision. I hope we never have to make it again,” said police Chief John Berger.

Bellas said Huwalt, of Ligonier, was suspended with pay when officials learned of the allegations.

Huwalt is free on recognizance bond. He did not attend the meeting.

Detectives Richard Kranitz and Will Brown said in the affidavit of probable cause that Charles Knupp, a borough sewage plant worker, was dropping off a teenager who works part-time at the grocery store at 7:50 a.m. when the incident took place. Knupp married Huwalt's ex-wife, Tanya, in 2014, the detectives said.

Huwalt, in uniform and driving the department's marked sport utility vehicle, pulled alongside Knupp's vehicle.

“Knupp put down his driver's side window and Huwalt lowered his passenger window. Knupp said, ‘What's up?' ” the detectives wrote in the affidavit.

Knupp told the detectives Huwalt called him a derogatory name.

“Huwalt's next words were, ‘I'm going to kill you,' and a gun came up. Huwalt extended his arm across the passenger portion of his vehicle and he aimed a blue automatic pistol at Knupp,” the affidavit said.

Huwalt asked Knupp, “How does that feel?” the detectives said.

Knupp told the detectives that Huwalt lowered the weapon when a man walked by.

“Although Knupp was scared for his life, (Knupp) said, ‘You don't scare me, Ed,' ” according to the affidavit.

The detectives said Huwalt resumed calling Knupp “pedophile,” “pervert” and other derogatory names.

The detectives allege Huwalt told Knupp to pull over, but Knupp responded that he was leaving and drove away.

Knupp reported the threat to borough officials the next morning, and Berger called the detective bureau to investigate.

Brown and Kranitz said they determined that Huwalt's service handgun, a Sig Sauer .357 caliber Magnum, has a blue finish “and matches the description given by Charles Knupp.”

The detectives said the Huwalts divorced in 2012, but the couple, who have 10 children, were still living together in August 2014. According to the affidavit, Tanya Huwalt told Huwalt that she was dating Knupp on Feb. 14, 2014, and the next day co-workers told Knupp that Huwalt was overheard making threats.

“Knupp's boss at the sewage plant, Kurt Fontaine, called and advised Knupp (on Feb. 15) that the borough was changing all the locks because Huwalt supposedly told Chief Berger that he was going to kill Knupp,” Brown and Kranitz wrote.

Knupp told detectives that Berger quelled a confrontation between him and Huwalt during Fort Ligonier Days in 2014. When Huwalt, who was in uniform, saw Knupp and his ex-wife walking together in town, he “purposely bumped into” Knupp and called him names before Berger interceded, according to court records.

No complaints were filed against Huwalt in either of the 2014 incidents.

A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 23 before Ligonier District Judge Denise Thiel.

Staff writer Gideon Bradshaw contributed. Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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