Tab climbs to more than $350k to settle discrimination cases against Westmoreland sheriff’s office
Westmoreland commissioners on Thursday agreed to pay $83,000 to settle discrimination cases brought by two deputies against Sheriff Jonathan Held and his former second in command.
Commissioners approved a $75,000 payment to Deputy Sean Lander, a 22-year-old U.S. Marine Corps reservist from Harrison City. He claimed in a federal lawsuit filed this year that Held’s office had a bias against hiring military reservists full time because “they take too much time off.”
Lander, in his lawsuit, claimed he was repeatedly overlooked for full-time deputy positions since he was hired in 2015. He named Held and his then-Chief Deputy Patricia Fritz as defendants. Fritz has since been fired.
Commissioners also signed off on an $8,000 payment to Deputy Isaiah Thomas Jenkins to resolve allegations he made against the sheriff’s department. Jenkins did not file a lawsuit, but his claims were raised in a complaint lodged with the county by his lawyer, according to county solicitor Melissa Guiddy. She said Jenkins’ claims mirrored the allegations in Lander’s lawsuit.
“It’s maddening. It’s frustrating, but we have no choice,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said of the latest settlements.
The county has paid out more than $350,000 in out-of-court settlements to resolve a dozen lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department since Held took office in 2012.
Held, a two-term Republican from Hempfield, has denied every allegation made against his department which included claims that he or his administration discriminated against employees based on race, age and gender.
Held has not announced whether he will seek a third term in office next year.
The civil lawsuits are just part of the sheriff’s legal woes.
He was charged this year with criminal offenses based on allegations he forced sheriff’s department staff to perform chores for his re-election efforts. State attorney general agents contend Held directed on duty staffers to perform campaign activities and used county computers and other equipment for those purposes.
His criminal case ended this month in a mistrial. Jurors said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on two charges against Held. Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he will retry the case.
Held is paying the legal bills for the defense of his criminal case.
The county is footing the bill to settle the civil cases brought against Held and the sheriff’s office.
“It’s just more taxpayer money being paid out,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]