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Editorial: Jury is out on sheriff's department future

| Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, 1:33 p.m.
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held (left) with his attorney, Ryan Tutera, meet the news media following his mistrial.
Rich Cholodofsky
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held (left) with his attorney, Ryan Tutera, meet the news media following his mistrial.
Westmoreland Sheriff Jonathan Held exits the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Dec. 5, 2018. Held, 44, of Hempfield is charged with two counts of theft and a single count of conflict of interest for allegedly diverting public money for his personal use.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland Sheriff Jonathan Held exits the Westmoreland County Courthouse on Dec. 5, 2018. Held, 44, of Hempfield is charged with two counts of theft and a single count of conflict of interest for allegedly diverting public money for his personal use.

Westmoreland County’s sheriff was not convicted on Friday.

Not for long, anyway.

Jonathan Held was found guilty in his public corruption trial when the jury returned its form, but when the judge polled them individually, one said he didn’t believe it. The judge called it a mistrial.

That’s how the court system works. A criminal case has to have 12 yes votes to convict, not 11 and a half.

Deputy Attorney General Bobbi Jo Wagner said the state “will likely retry the case,” so this is probably not the end of the story.

It is also likely not to be the end of drama in the sheriff’s office, especially if the defense closing arguments were any indication.

Held’s lawyer, Ryan Tutera, delivered a statement dripping with theories worthy of a cable television pundit, suggesting that allegations the sheriff made department employees work on his re-election campaign was a political witch hunt ginned up by adversaries. The 15 witnesses, many those same employees? Disgruntled.

“This is about a politician, about a man not liked even by his own party. That’s not a reason to convict him. It’s a reason to vote him out of office,” Tutera said.

But after opening that door, Tutera wouldn’t say whether Held would be seeking a third term in 2019, which could be awkward if the state is seeking a second trial at the same time.

He is right, though.

Regardless of the verdict delivered by 12 people who could only be 95.8 percent sure that something was happening in the sheriff’s office that shouldn’t be, all of Westmoreland County has another opportunity to have its say when the office is on the ballot in the coming year, regardless of who is running.

The county voters get to decide if the office should be run by someone who faces corruption charges. They get to decide if the sheriff’s office should be a place where the top three officers are all facing their own criminal cases at the same time. They get to decide if they would rather try a direction where law enforcement is serving court documents to other people rather than being served themselves.

They get to hope that the department can fully staff itself and not be sued for discrimination.

They get to voice their opinions about what they want out of the people who wear the Westmoreland County badge.

And if 11 out of every 12 say they want change, it won’t matter if that last one goes back and forth.

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