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Worthington faces lawsuit by ex-chief

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 11:23 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger
Worthington police Chief William DeForte talks with a reporter Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 about the arrests of suspects for allegedly soliciting sex in the borough. Louis B. Ruediger | Trib Total Media

WORTHINGTON — A former Worthington police chief claimed in a federal lawsuit filed on Monday against the borough that he was fired after repeated confrontations with elected town officials over alleged unlawful acts, including the theft of fire department equipment by the mayor.

William DeForte, 42, of Clinton, is suing Worthington Borough; Mayor Kevin Feeney; Barry Rosen, a borough council member and constable, and Gerald Rodgers, the current chief of police.

DeForte, who has been with the Worthington police since 2009, said he wants his name cleared and to be reinstated as Worthington's chief with full back pay, benefits and compensation to cover expenses, including court costs and attorney fees.

According to the lawsuit, DeForte was fired Nov. 5 for what Feeney alleged was insubordination or other possible offenses.

To date, Worthington officials have not provided any statement of charges against DeForte, nor given him the opportunity to be heard, the lawsuit said.

Worthington solicitor Roger T. Mechling of Kittanning said through his secretary that he would not respond to a reporter's questions about the case.

Neither Feeney, Rosen nor Rodgers could be reached for comment.

DeForte's federal lawsuit is one of two filed on Monday against the borough by a former police officer.

Evan Townsend, 42, of Brookline is suing the same individuals named in DeForte's lawsuit and claims council initially fired him from its police force for not writing enough traffic tickets, rehired him two months later and then fired him again without providing a reason.

“I think that there is a lot that is going to come out with regards to what is going on in Worthington Borough,” said Attorney Craig H. Alexander, who is representing DeForte and Townsend.

“Mayor Feeney and councilman Rosen had their hands in a lot of things that they shouldn't have,” said Alexander.

As a result, said Alexander, DeForte and Townsend have both lost their jobs.

DeForte's is claiming that in late October, Feeney removed five radios from the Worthington-West Franklin fire department without authorization.

The lawsuit said that when DeForte confronted Feeney on Oct. 24 he acknowledged taking the radios. He asked if DeForte was investigating him and promised to return the radios.

DeForte also said in his lawsuit: “Both Mayor Feeney and councilperson Rosen were often overheard telling the rank and file of the police department that they had to earn their salary through ticket writing, and if they wanted a new cruiser they had to write enough tickets to purchase one.”

DeForte claims he repeatedly advised both men that the quota system was unlawful. He also said he questioned Feeney about Feeney's use of a police borough emergency equipment grant to repair red lights in the borough without approval from council.

On Oct. 26, two days after the discussion about the grant money, Feeney removed the police computer and the hard drive from the police department and refused to return DeForte's calls concerning the matter, the lawsuit said.

Later that day when Feeney and Rosen arrived at the police department, Feeney informed DeForte that he was suspended and allegedly threatened to report him to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regarding a missing gun – which was later found at the police department.

Rodgers was promoted to police chief when DeForte was fired.

According to the lawsuit DeForte contends that his suspension and subsequent firing were discussed in an executive session before a public council meeting on Nov. 5.

He argues in his lawsuit the discussion was a violation of the state open meeting law which requires that an employee be given notice that potential discipline may be discussed in executive session. He said an employee has the right to request in writing that the matter be discussed in public.

Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or bbeatty@tribweb.com.

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