North Huntingdon to pay $600K in lawsuit filed by fired police chief
A former North Huntingdon police chief who claimed he was wrongfully fired by a political faction in charge of the township government will received $600,000 as part of a legal settlement – one of the largest amounts ever paid to a law enforcement official in his situation in Western Pennsylvania, his lawyer said Thursday.
Andrew Lisiecki, 58, of Pittsburgh’s Brookline neighborhood, filed a federal lawsuit against North Huntingdon after four township commissioners voted in September 2016 to terminate him. The lawsuit claimed that the firing was for “no specific reason” and that it violated Lisiecki’s constitutional right to due process because he lost his job without being notified of any charges or being afforded an opportunity to respond.
“I’m pleased with the settlement,” Lisiecki said. “Of course, what I wanted to do was go back to my former position as chief. But it just didn’t seem like that was going to happen, so it was time to basically move on with my life, my career.”
Township Manager Jeff Silka said the township would not comment until it sees the settlement. Silka said the settlement was reached with the township’s general liability insurance carrier.
Attorney Timothy P. O’Brien said the U.S. Constitution and Pennsylvania law “protects law enforcement officers, including police chiefs, from termination without notice and a hearing.” He said the township gave Lisiecki a letter saying he was being terminated “for no reason.” The township contended Lisiecki was an at-will employee and could be terminated at any time without cause.
“Any chief of police should not lose their job because of some petty politics that goes on in a municipality,” O’Brien said. “The United States Constitution establishes that when you have a protected interest in your job, like the chief did, you can’t just fire somebody. You have to have reasons. You have to tell the person the reason, and they have to be given an opportunity to be heard. That didn’t happen.”
North Huntingdon hired Lisiecki in May 2012.
Lisiecki contended his firing was in retaliation for testimony he gave against former North Huntingdon Officer William Sombo during hearings on Sombo’s conduct in pressuring another officer to reduce charges against Commissioner David Herold in a road-rage incident in October 2013. Herold was acquitted of disorderly conduct charges.
After testifying against Sombo, Lisiecki stated in the suit he learned he was a target of an alleged “hit list” compiled by Herold and fellow Commissioner Anthony Martino.
The suit alleges Herold and Martino threatened to discipline the chief from May to November 2015 and made false accusations to undermine his authority. Lisiecki stated that in January 2016 he was ordered by four commissioners to conduct “unwarranted investigations” into officers who testified against Sombo.
Commissioners Darryl Bertani and Michael Faccenda Jr. joined Martino and Herold in voting to fire Lisiecki. Three other commissioners opposed the action.
Lisiecki sued the township and named the commissioners who voted to terminate his contract as defendants.
“(This) sends a message to communities throughout Pennsylvania and Western Pennsylvania that you can’t interfere with law enforcement in a way of taking away their jobs and threatening their jobs because of political reasons,” O’Brien said. “It’s wrong and it’s bad for public safety.”
Lisiecki said since 2016 he’s worked several security jobs and was recently hired by the West Mifflin Area School District as a full-time school police officer.
“It’s a shame that, as Mr. O’Brien said, that politics reared its ugly head and certain people on the board just kept wanting to get involved in it,” Lisiecki said. “I think this is a chance for both myself to move on and hopefully for the residents in the township to find somebody else to take my place.”