Expert: Guilty verdict would strip ex-Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold of badge
If found guilty of the charges he faces, suspended Leechburg police Chief Mike Diebold will never be a police officer again and faces decades in prison.
That's according to associate professor of law John Rago, a legal expert with Duquesne University's School of Law.
Rago said that if Diebold, who is accused of attempting to have sexual contact with a minor, is found guilty, he faces some very serious penalties.
Diebold is out on bond following his Jan. 5 arrest.
“These are very serious charges and there are serious consequences; there is no question,” Rago said. “Sentencing guidelines provide a sentencing range. It's within the judge's discretion to sentence in those guidelines.”
Duke George, an attorney for Diebold, warned that it is early in the judicial process and it's unknown whether the charges will hold up.
“We have to go through the system,” he said. “This is why we have preliminary hearings, why we have trials and burdens of proof.”
George requests that the public let the case play out.
“I hope everybody respects his right to a jury trial, to jurisprudence, and the presumption of innocence until a jury or a judge makes a verdict,” he said.
“That's all we ask. No more, no less,” George said.
According to state sentencing guidelines, the most serious charge Diebold faces is a first-degree felony count of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. That carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Even if the judge grants Diebold some leniency in sentencing, if he is found guilty, Rago said Diebold will never wear a badge again.
“I'm sure that without regard to any contractual issues, without regard to anything in particular, professional ethics included, I cannot conceive of anyone convicted of such a crime continuing in law enforcement in any capacity,” he said.
Rago stressed that Diebold must be presumed innocent until the case is completed, but he understands that's hard for the public to do.
“When we talk about the presumption of innocence, that's a hard pill to swallow, but this chief is entitled to that presumption,” Rago said. “This is not a happy event for anyone. The blow this does to criminal justice and law enforcement is significant.”
Diebold, 40, of Forks Church Road, Gilpin, was arrested Jan. 5 after arranging to meet with an undercover agent he thought was a teenage girl, according to a statement released by Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
According to Shapiro, Diebold allegedly sent inappropriate pictures to the undercover agent prior to the meeting and solicited the agent for unlawful sexual contact.
Diebold was arrested and charged with unlawful contact with a minor and criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, according to court documents.
Law enforcement ‘conducive' to misconduct
Michael Arter, a former police officer who is now a criminal justice professor at Penn State, said police work is conducive to sexual misconduct and that such misconduct is often unreported.
“Police sexual misconduct is one of the hidden crimes that routinely go unreported for various reasons, such as fear of retaliation or fear they won't be believed or from the sheer humiliation of the acts which took place,” Arter said. “Police work, itself, is highly conducive to sexual misconduct with engagement of both of age and underage females as victims of the offense.
“Police routinely operate alone and are largely free from any direct supervision. This is especially true for a chief.”
Arter said research shows that 40 percent of the victims of police sexual misconduct were teenagers.
Arter said most victims of police sexual misconduct are between 14 and 15 years old and most offending officers are 36 to 43 years old.
As far as why a police officer would engage in this sort of behavior, Arter said the stress of the job is a large contributing factor.
“Police officers react to stress in different ways, with many responses being maladaptive in nature. Such maladaptive reactions include alcohol abuse, promiscuous sexual encounters and risk-taking behaviors.
“Alcohol and sex are often used by police officers to mediate the stress of the job and the associated stress of family life, which often plays a large role in police officer stress,” he said.
Diebold will have a preliminary hearing before Judge Cheryl Peck Yakopec at 1 p.m. Friday.