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Westmoreland

Westmoreland chief deputy sheriff being investigated on claim she assaulted union rep

Rich Cholodofsky
| Friday, Aug. 10, 2018, 4:54 p.m.

The Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office is investigating a top official in the sheriff’s office based on a complaint filed by the president of the union that represents department staff.

Cpl. Steve Felder claimed he was assaulted this week during a meeting with the department’s second in command.

“There was a complaint, and we’ve undertaken an investigation. Interviews with a number of people have not been completed,” District Attorney John Peck said Friday.

Peck identified Felder as the person who filed the complaint.

Felder serves as president of the Westmoreland County Court Appointed and Court Related Employees Union, the bargaining unit that represents deputy sheriffs. He also serves as a corporal in the sheriff’s office and previously ran unsuccessfully to oust two-term Republican Sheriff Jonathan Held. Felder said he intends to run again for Held’s job next year.

According to Felder, the incident occurred as he was meeting with Chief Deputy Patricia Fritz and Held this week to represent another staffer in the sheriff’s office. Felder contends the meeting turned physical when Fritz shoved or jabbed at him as their discussion became heated.

Witnesses at the courthouse said they saw Held and Fritz orally confront Felder as he went to file a complaint with the human resources office.

“The detectives told me not to talk about it, but it shouldn’t have happened in a work environment,” Felder said.

Felder was off work Friday after being suspended indefinitely with pay for insubordination, he said.

Held issued a statement Friday in which he said he was unaware of the district attorney’s investigation.

“I have not been informed by the DA’s office about any investigation involving Chief Deputy Fritz or Cpl. Steve Felder. Personnel issues are considered confidential, and I can’t comment on them,” Held said.

Fritz referred all questions to her lawyer, Noah Geary. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The probe is the second time Fritz’s behavior has been the subject of a county investigation. County commissioners this year launched an internal review of allegations raised by African-American job candidates who claimed they were discriminated against by Fritz. Commissioners later hired an outside law firm to conduct that probe, but so far no results have been made public.

Two racial discrimination lawsuits have since been filed against the sheriff’s department.

Fritz, meanwhile, claimed she was harassed by an assistant county solicitor who was initially assigned by the commissioners to investigate the racial discrimination claims. An outside law firm was hired to investigate the claim. The commissioners released a statement last month that said Fritz’s allegations were unsubstantiated, and the solicitor involved was cleared of wrongdoing.

Held is awaiting trial on criminal charges filed this year by the state Attorney General’s Office alleging he forced staff in the sheriff’s office to perform campaign duties on his behalf while on duty. Jury selection in the case is scheduled to begin Sept. 24.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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