Archive

ShareThis Page
Role in chief’s firing painful | TribLIVE.com
News

Role in chief’s firing painful

Plum Solicitor Bruce Dice testified Thursday that investigating Terry Focareta and drawing up a list of 21 accusations for firing him as Plum police chief was personally painful but part of the job.

“I don’t like what happened here. I am sorry,” Dice said during the fourth day of trial in Focareta’s federal lawsuit against Plum’s mayor, seven councilmen and Dice. “I am a lawyer doing my job. That’s the way it works, whether he is a friend or not a friend.”

But Pat Sorek, Focareta’s attorney, said Dice actually “steered the investigation exactly where the (other) defendants wanted it to go and piled on charges.”

The lawsuit charges that Plum Council fired Focareta on Jan. 24, 2002, as retaliation for investigations of Mayor John Schmeck, several councilmen and their relatives. Dice was added as a defendant earlier this year.

Plum officials say Focareta was fired for mishandling the hiring of a police officer in fall 2001.

Focareta is seeking reinstatement to the chief’s job, payment of back wages and benefits and unspecified punitive damages.

Dice, who said he and Focareta were friends for almost 30 years, testified that he began his investigation into the hiring at Schmeck’s request after council hired Paul Saxon as a patrol officer. Dice said Schmeck told him of a letter from applicant Louis Parrotta Jr. Parrotta’s letter said he did not fail a polygraph exam, as had been reported, and complained of being unfairly removed from the eligibility list.

Dice said he initially thought Parrotta simply was a “disgruntled applicant.”

Dice testified that in November 2001 he learned from the polygraph examiner that Parrotta had passed the test. Dice said he then obtained a Sept. 4, 2001, memo on which Parrotta is listed as “disqualified” and “failed polygraph.”

“I didn’t know who disqualified him,” Dice said.

Dice said that because Plum Civil Service Commission rules say only commission members can disqualify a candidate, he asked each of the three members about Parrotta’s disqualification. Dice said he sent copies of the letters to Focareta, interim borough manager Maria Gingery and Plum Council members.

Dice said he verified by early January 2002 that the three commission members had not disqualified Parrotta, providing “the last piece of the puzzle” that Focareta was responsible.

Dice said he subsequently drafted a list of charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, neglect of duty and immorality. Dice said he presented the charges to council, and the seven members decided to fire Focareta.

Focareta, 55, who now is chief of corporate security for a real estate management company, testified earlier this week that he did not disqualify Parrotta. Instead, Focareta said his Sept. 4, 2001, memo to Plum Council stated his opinion about Parrotta based on the results of the polygraph examination.

Focareta testified that although Parrotta’s responses were truthful, the Sept. 4 memo lists Parrotta as having failed because the answers “caused alarm to me.” Focareta said Parrotta admitted to illegal use of steroids. Parrotta has not testified and he declined to comment.

Sorek asked Dice if he considered getting Focareta’s explanation of the hiring before drawing up the charges.

“You were Mr. Focareta’s friend,” Sorek said. “You never approached him?”

“He became a suspect to me in possibly a serious wrongdoing,” Dice said, adding that Focareta had an opportunity to give his side during a hearing before council after the charges were presented.

Sorek also asked Dice why he drafted 21 lengthy charges against the chief.

“What is the difference between ‘misrepresentation’ and ‘creating a false impression’?” Sorek asked, referring to two paragraphs charging that Focareta had misled council about Parrotta’s polygraph results. “You didn’t need all these statements to charge Chief Focareta, did you?

“That is how I styled it as a lawyer,” Dice answered.

Sorek also asked Dice why Focareta’s discharge papers contained a provision that he could be charged with defiant trespass if he entered police headquarters after he was fired.

“You threatened his arrest,” Sorek said to Dice. “(With) everything you knew about him for 30 years, he was a danger?”

“He wasn’t a danger,” Dice responded. “Was it right under these circumstances• Yes. We wanted to make sure it was clear he was not to return.”

After Sorek finished presenting Focareta’s side of the case, attorneys for the borough and Dice asked that the suit be dismissed. U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose rejected the requests. The trial resumes Monday with the borough presenting its case.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.