Official: Councilmen accused of child sex assault can't be forced from office
Kittanning Council does not have the authority to remove a councilman from office despite charges he engaged in sexual contact with a disabled 14-year-old, Council President Kim Chiesa said Friday.
On Thursday, Council Vice President David John Croyle, 60, was arrested and charged with felony counts of statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with a minor, aggravated indecent assault of a person with a mental disability, corruption of minors and related charges.
Croyle is the editor and publisher of the Kittanning Paper and senior pastor at the Family-Life Church on South Jefferson Street in Kittanning.
Also arrested and facing identical charges is Applewold Council President Mark Alan Feeney, 55, who also serves as chief of the East Franklin Township Fire Department and fire marshal for North Buffalo Township.
Both men were arraigned on the charges before District Judge James H. Owen on Friday morning and held in the Armstrong County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bond each.
Representatives of the Family-Life Church, Applewold Council and East Franklin Township Fire Department either refused or did not return requests for comment.
According to court documents, the victim told police he first met Feeney in 2016 at Riverfront Park in Kittanning through a mutual friend. The victim told police Feeney scolded him over his contact with their mutual friend, an unidentified adult, and told him not to have further contact with the man due to the victim’s relative age.
Despite this admonishment, according to court documents, Feeney later sent the victim a Facebook friend request and began to have sexually explicit conversations with him. The pair began to exchange nude photos sometime after that, police say in court documents.
Around Easter of 2016, police say, the victim met Feeney at his Ridge Road home in Applewold on three occasions for sexual encounters.
Police say Feeney referred to his home as “the Hangout.”
During the third encounter, the victim told police he didn’t want to have sex with Feeney, that it was dark in the room and he asked Feeney to stop but he did not.
After the encounter ended, police say in court documents, Feeney told the victim to stay silent about the encounter. The victim told police he did not respond to further messages from Feeney.
Later that year, according to court documents, the victim told police he first met Croyle while filling out an employment application at the Kittanning Paper. The victim told officers the application indicated he was 14 years old. The victim told police he next heard from Croyle through the social media application Grindr. That contact led to an exchange of phone numbers, which eventually led to the victim and Croyle exchanging nude images, according to court documents.
During the summer of 2016, the victim told police, Croyle invited him to his residence on South Jefferson Street. When he arrived, the victim told police, Croyle led him to a bedroom for a sexual encounter. After the encounter, the victim told police, he was instructed to stay silent lest Croyle lose his job.
A second encounter occurred later that summer, the victim told police, and was again told to remain silent about it.
Croyle and Feeney are scheduled to again appear before Owen on Aug. 22 for preliminary hearings.
According to Councilwoman Chiesa, the allegations against Croyle are serious enough that she has begun reaching out to the rest of council to see if there is enough support to ask for Croyle’s resignation.
Beyond that, state law make it difficult for council to act.
“We’re still researching and looking into everything. We cannot remove him from office; we know that,” she said. “We are waiting to see how this plays out.
”Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. All I know is we are allowed to ask for a resignation. We cannot demand.”
According to Ronald J. Grutza, the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs’ assistant director of government affairs, removing a member of a legislative body is not a power granted to a borough’s council.
“Removing someone from office belongs to the court, or by the (state) constitution through the governor, or by impeachment,” he said. “So, that’s where we stand today.”
In an emailed statement sent Friday afternoon, North Buffalo Township Solicitor Chuck Pascal said Feeney had been removed from his position as fire marshal.
“While the supervisors are not making any judgment on the charges filed against Mr. Feeney, they believe it is in the interest of township residents that they suspend Mr. Feeney from his duties until the resolution of this very serious matter,” Pascal said.
Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Matthew at 724-226-4675, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.