A former Ambridge police officer convicted in federal court of a civil rights violation after assaulting a suspect who urinated in front of his granddaughter has been named to the borough's Civil Service Commission.
Richard Heitzenrater, who was sentenced in November 2010 to six months at a halfway house and six months of home confinement on one misdemeanor count, was confirmed to the commission board in a 6-0 vote.
Borough Manager Eric Kaunert said that Mr. Heitzenrater was qualified for the position.
"The solicitor reviewed his application, and legally, there was no reason why he couldn't be appointed," he said.
The position on the three-person board came open in August. There is no pay.
Council president Gerald McCoy said that because Mr. Heitzenrater was not convicted of a felony, he is eligible to sit on the commission.
"I believe our council believes in second chances," he said. "He was accused of something. He served his time. We didn't feel he has to spend the rest of his life paying for that."
Mr. Heitzenrater beat out one other candidate, Sally Knoll, who could not be reached for comment.
Mr. McCoy said that the council felt that Ms. Knoll did not have any background to qualify her for the board. Mr. Heitzenrater had sat on it in the past.
"Had we felt she was the most qualified," Mr. McCoy said, "she would have gotten it."
The commission meets only when borough council requests it -- to fill public safety positions in the police and fire departments or to qualify candidates for promotions, Mr. Kaunert said. At Tuesday's meeting, there was no public comment regarding the appointment, he said.
"It's one of the few times I can remember where we had no citizen participation."
On Feb. 20, 2009, Ambridge police were called for the report of a drunken man having urinated in front of two children. One of them was Mr. Heitzenrater's granddaughter.
David Baker was arrested for public drunkenness and other counts.
According to federal prosecutors, Mr. Heitzenrater, who was then a sergeant in the department, arrived at the police station and entered Mr. Baker's cell.
He was accused of beating the man and was reported to have turned off the lights as he entered to obscure a video recording in the cell.
Mr. Baker claimed in a civil lawsuit against the officer and borough that Mr. Heitzenrater stuck the barrel of a gun in the man's mouth. Mr. Heitzenrater's defense attorney denied that.
The borough settled the lawsuit for $150,000. Mr. Heitzenrater retired from the department in the spring of 2009.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.