Editorial: Does Michael Diebold's punishment fit the crime?
If there is anyone who understands the law, it should be a police officer.
If there is anyone who understands that it is against the law to ask a 14-year-old girl for sex, it should be a police officer.
If there is anyone — anyone — who should understand that when you are talking to someone on the internet, there’s a good chance that the person you think is a 14-year-old girl is actually wearing a badge, it really ought to be a police officer.
With that in mind, it’s good to see the case of Leechburg police Chief Michael Diebold come to an end with a guilty plea, just as it’s good to know that Leechburg will “soon” officially change his status from suspended to fired.
What isn’t good is seeing Westmoreland County become the most recent jurisdiction to deliver a relatively light sentence for a sex offense. Diebold pleaded to four felonies and received a nine-to-23-month jail sentence. Because of time already served awaiting trial, he will be eligible for probation on Jan. 28.
The most famous is the 2016 case of Brock Turner, the Stanford student convicted of raping an unconscious woman and getting a sentence of just six months plus probation. That’s been mirrored in the more recent case of Jacob Anderson, a 23-year-old former Baylor frat president whose plea will keep him out of jail.
In Pennsylvania, there is the case of Christopher Lee, the former supervisor of Harris Township, Centre County, who received an 18-year federal prison sentence for child pornography and other crimes filed in 2014. That followed a 2004 plea deal netting an accelerated rehabilitative disposition agreement for indecent assault against two young boys. He completed the program, although not without pressure from the court, and eventually had those charges scrubbed from his record.
Outrage regarding Lee’s case led to a change in law. As of June, Pennsylvania sex offenders can no longer receive ARD.
Similar outrage regarding Jerry Sandusky’s crimes led to a series of changes in state child abuse laws, including an exception that grants longer windows for reporting acts by public employees.
The big difference between those cases and Diebold’s comes down to a thorough understanding of exactly where the legal lines are drawn. What college students, a museum director and a football coach should have known was wrong, a police chief absolutely did know was wrong.
Maybe it is time for a change when it comes to the people charged with enforcing the laws. Maybe it is time to say no one knows the law better, so there is a higher penalty for breaking it.
It seems like that time may have come when Diebold’s estranged wife expressed shock with the sentence, saying it “honestly makes me want to fight for tougher laws on sex offenders.”
And if anyone should understand that, it should be a police officer.