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Report: $8M spent to settle sex misconduct cases against Pennsylvania state police

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017, 7:27 p.m.
The Pennsylvania State Police station in Butler.
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
The Pennsylvania State Police station in Butler.

A woman who worked as a clerk typist at Pennsylvania State Police's Butler station sued the state because a corporal there repeatedly made “suggestive and offensive remarks” and once handcuffed her to the steering wheel of her vehicle, an investigative report by The Caucus weekly newspaper has found.

The state paid $42,500 to settle the 2008 federal lawsuit.

In total, sexual harassment and misconduct lawsuits filed against Pennsylvania State Police have cost taxpayers nearly $8 million since 2001, with most payments ranging from $5,000 to $435,000, The Caucus found through Right-to-Know law requests and county, state and federal records.

The report did not name most of the individuals involved in the cases, including those at the Butler state police station.

State police did not admit to wrongdoing in any of the settlements, The Caucus said.

The bulk of the settlement money — $6.3 million — settled claims made between 2001 and 2004 against one trooper, Michael K. Evans, a Berks County man whom The Caucus noted was convicted of several sex crimes and served eight years in prison.

The state police's Butler station declined to comment about the allegations involving it.

Ryan Tarkowski, a state police spokesman in Harrisburg, said he could not comment on individual cases.

Tarkowski told The Caucus, “We are confident that our members and civilian employees receive the proper training in how to prevent, identify and report misconduct. Every allegation is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.”

The allegations resulting in settlements ranged from physical assault to sexual discrimination and retaliation as well as being forced to work in a hostile work environment.

The Caucus found four pending sexual harassment and assault-related cases, including a rape allegation against an unnamed trooper.

Although not mentioned in The Caucus report, state Trooper Eric Zona was charged with indecent assault and open lewdness after allegedly exposing himself to Westmoreland County dispatcher Casey E. Bilik at the Greensburg state police station. Zona, who pleaded not guilty, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Oct. 20, 2016, two weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin.

Two months ago, Bilik filed a civil lawsuit in which she accused her superiors of unlawfully retaliating against her after she made sexual harassment allegations against Zona, while Zona was transferred multiple times after complaints were made against him.

Tarkowski told The Caucus that when warranted, troopers involved in inappropriate conduct can face consequences ranging from a three-day suspension to getting fired.

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he found the amounts of public money being used to settle sexual harassment claims against public officials to be “outrageous.” He plans to see how his office could help improve policies and come up with ways to reduce the need for such settlements.

Separately, the state House Democratic Caucus has spent more than half-million dollars to settle sexual harassment and other employment issue claims since 2007 — including $248,000 paid to settle a sexual harassment complaint filed against state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone of Berks County, PennLive.com reported.

The disclosure has led Gov. Tom Wolf to attempt to block state funding used to pay settlements related to sexual harassment cases and to call for Caltagirone's resignation.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at (412) 380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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