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Westmoreland sheriff wants to implement 'zero-tolerance' drug-testing policy

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 12:09 a.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held explains a new drug testing program for employees he wants to implement in the aftermath of the arrest of deputy Erika Ditch, 24, of Greensburg, during a press conference on Thursday April, 04, 2013 at the Westmoreland County Courthouse. Ditch and Leann Wechtenhiser, 24, of Derry were arrested on charges of possession with intent to deliver heroin.
Erika Ditch, 24, of Greensburg was arrested on Wednesday April 3, 2013, outside a Target store in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty neighborhood for allegedly using heroin.

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held said on Thursday he wants to implement a drug-testing program for new and current employees in the aftermath of a deputy's arrest in Pittsburgh on drug charges.

“People who do drugs and associate with drugs will not work in this office,” Held said during a news conference in which he announced a “zero-tolerance policy” for drug users.

The first-term sheriff's comments were made less than a day after part-time deputy Erika Ditch of Greensburg was arrested on Wednesday outside a Target store in Pittsburgh's East Liberty neighborhood.

Police said Ditch, 24, and Leann Wechtenhiser, 24, of Derry were using heroin while parked outside the store.

Held said Ditch was hired last summer and finished her training period in December.

Her duties involved monitoring female defendants in the courthouse holding cells and transporting them to courtrooms, Held said.

Ditch was immediately suspended without pay. Upon her release from the Allegheny County Jail on Thursday, she tendered her resignation, Held said.

Wechtenhiser did not work for the sheriff's department.

Ditch and other deputy sheriffs did not undergo drug testing when they were hired and are not subject to random drug testing.

Held said he wants that to change.

“We do not have any testing procedures as of yet, but I'm looking into it. It's already being evaluated,” Held said.

Negotiations with the Westmoreland County Court-Related Employees, the union representing deputy sheriffs, are under way.

Deputies are working without a contract while the matter is in arbitration, according to Chuck Dominick, the county's human resources director.

Dominick said drug testing for deputies is an issue in the negotiations.

Deputy Sheriff Steve Felder, who serves as labor leader for the department, could not be reached for comment.

Westmoreland County has been phasing in drug testing for some other employees.

Under terms of a labor deal approved last week with the county's park police, officers are randomly tested, Dominick said.

Probation officers have been tested for a number of years, and guards at Westmoreland County Prison are tested under a policy approved last year.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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