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Police chiefs group ousts Westmoreland sheriff

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jon Held addresses a full room during a forum on gun permits at the Westmoreland County Community College on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held has been dismissed from the county's top law enforcement association.

The county Chiefs of Police Association, which has more than 50 members, voted last week to terminate Held's membership in the group that coordinates relationships among municipal and county law enforcement agencies.

“There was a lot of controversy involving Sheriff Held and the practices of his department,” said the association's president, Allegheny Township Police Chief John Fontaine.

Held has come under fire for his plan, announced in January, to have sheriff's deputies serve arrest warrants around the clock in Jeannette.

“There are allegations the sheriff wants his department to encroach on local police departments. There was a consensus his office is overstepping its bounds,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine declined to reveal how many members voted to dismiss Held from the association and to preclude the sheriff's department as a whole from participation in the group.

The association met with Held in February during a contentious meeting at the county courthouse.

Held did not attend a meeting eight days ago in New Kensington when the dismissal vote was taken.

“I know there has been paranoia that my office is going to take over their policedepartments. We have no intention of taking over any police departments or replacing them,” Held said on Tuesday.

In announcing his Jeannette program, the sheriff said his deputies could serve as backup to city police officers.

Jeannette officials have rejected Held's help. At a city council meeting last week, police chiefs from around the county and members of the Fraternal Order of Police attended to protest Held, who was scheduled to speak.

Fontaine said problems with Held surfaced almost immediately after the first-term Republican took office in January 2012.

“The sheriff's office has been a topic of discussion since Held became sheriff. It's been a strained relationship with the chiefs and departments,” Fontaine said.

With Held's ouster, Westmoreland County will still have representation in the police chiefs' association.

District Attorney John Peck, Chief County Detective Mike Brajdich, Park Police Chief Nick Caesar and prison Warden John Walton will continue to participate in the group, Fontaine said.

Caesar and Brajdich declined to speak about Held's dismissal.

Fontaine said the county sheriff has been a member of the association for as long as anyone can remember.

“If a new sheriff comes into office, he can apply for membership and will be considered,” Fontaine said.

Held said he is not concerned about his ouster.

“I'll just talk to the chiefs of police one-on-one. I have a good relationship with them, and I'll continue to work with them,” Held said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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