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Westmoreland

Westmoreland commissioners to state Senate: Impeach Sheriff Jonathan Held

Rich Cholodofsky
| Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, 4:00 p.m.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held

State senators ought to consider impeaching Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held, the county's top elected officials urged Thursday.

“Even if there is a remote chance they can take it on, there's a lot of evidence for it,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said.

His comments and other criticisms of Held, a two-term Republican, came after a commissioners meeting where several residents complained about the sheriff stripping the department's canine from his handler and the settlement of two federal discrimination lawsuits filed against the department by former deputies.

No formal request has been made to have Held removed from office.

Held insisted that he had solid reasons for removing the police dog, Diesel, from Deputy Jason Grecco.

“It was due to lack of performance,” Held said. “Two weeks ago, I received complaints that the dog was being used as a house pet. I have pictures to support it.”

Diesel has served as the department's narcotics sniffing dog since he was acquired in 2014. Held this week ordered Grecco, Diesel's trained handler, to transfer the dog to another deputy in the department.

The dog and his new handler have started training together, Held said.

Grecco did not respond to requests for comment.

Several of Grecco's friends appeared Thursday before the commissioners to complain about the reassignment, suggesting the dog was emotionally harmed by removal from his family.

Commissioners said they were not satisfied with Held's explanation.

“Our goal is to ensure the dog is fighting our opioid problem. We've asked the solicitor to look into who owns the dog,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said. “All three of us want to keep the dog fighting the drug epidemic and going back home to his family.”

Following the public meeting, Cerilli met privately with a group that supports the dog's assignment to Grecco.

Kopas offered an even harsher assessment of Held.

“The sheriff has proven disastrous at managing people, so it's no surprise he can't manage a dog,” Kopas said. “I don't buy his story, and I don't buy his reasoning to do what he did.”

Since he took office in 2012, Held has clashed with commissioners over spending and personnel issues. About a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed against him by current and former staffers, including the two settled Thursday.

Commissioners agreed to pay former deputy Lacey Saxton $6,500 to settle her gender discrimination lawsuit against Held last year. A $15,000 settlement was approved to end a lawsuit filed by former deputy Tracy Donsen , who claimed Held demoted her for supporting a political opponent.

In June, commissioners paid $2,500 to settle a lawsuit against another former deputy who accused Held of gender discrimination.

Held defended his actions and has maintained that he never discriminated against any employee.

“I'm not a liar, and shame on them for these personal attacks,” Held said of the commissioners. “They should understand with the amount of people they manage that you can't please everyone. There will always be disgruntled people.”

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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