Four current or former constables today sued in federal court several top Allegheny County officials — the county executive, sheriff and controller — alleging malicious prosecution, violation of due process, breach of contract, conspiracy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit boils down to a turf battle between constables and sheriff's deputies, and a dispute over fees collected by constables from the county in connection with people turning themselves in on bench warrants issued by family division judges in Common Pleas Court. The constables were paid fees for wanted persons who voluntarily turned themselves in at a constable's direction.
The suit alleges that the sheriff's office and staff in the district attorney's office conspired to force certain constables to repay their fees — some totaling several thousand dollars — to the controller's office or face criminal charges.
The suit claims that John Fitzgerald, a prosecutor in the district attorney's office, and Darrell Parker, an inspector with its detective division, embarked on a "campaign of terror, intimidation, official impression and infringement of the individual Constitutional rights" of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs claim that the two DA's office employees started filing or threatened to file charges against certain constables without probable cause.
"Both Fitzgerald and Parker began to threaten constables with arrest if they did not repay a specified amount arbitrarily calculated by Parker and Fitzgerald," according to the suit.
Plaintiffs Charles Bracken of Ford City, William Jackson of East Hills, Patrick Jennings of Bellevue — all current constables — and former constable William DeForte of Clinton also accused the sheriff's office of wanting to bar constables from serving warrants for the family division. The suit also claims that the controller's office did not prevent due-process violations.
Personnel in the sheriff's office and the family division met "to discuss the exclusion of the constables from serving warrants so that [sheriff's office] may take control over the warrant service and exclusively collect those fees," the lawsuit alleges.
"Various Allegheny County Sheriffs created a hostile work environment for the constables, by verbally harassing and abusing them, not opening the back door when prisoners were brought to family court, name calling, and many other despicable forms of intimidation and bullying tactics," the lawsuit says.
Sheriff William P. Mullen called the allegations "not true." Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald had no comment. The DA's office also declined comment. And Brad Korinski, solicitor for Controller Chelsa Wagner, said, "I don't think there’s any merit to the allegations.”