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A HOLD ON STATE FUNDS: Borough, GMEDC told to work together to end freeze, state reps say

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A hold on the disbursal of state grant money to Middletown remains in effect until the borough submits a completed audit covering the use of grant fund proceeds by the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. from 2008 to 2010, authorities say.

 

State Rep. John Payne, whose office represents most of Middletown, told the Press And Journal that the hold impacts hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a $250,000 grant to help the Middletown Volunteer Fire Department pay off the new addition to the fire house on Adelia Street.

 

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:40

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Middletown police officer resigns

Middletown Borough Council voted 8-0 to accept the resignation of police Officer Andrew Crone during a meeting on Monday, Sept. 15.

 

Council’s vote followed a 50-minute closed-door session and came after Mayor James H. Curry III read a resignation letter from Crone that had been submitted earlier Monday to acting Chief Sgt. James Bennett.

 

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:28

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Elks to be transferred to authority

A real estate closing is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 18 to transfer ownership of the Elks Building in Middletown from the Greater Middletown Economic Development Corp. to the borough’s Industrial and Commercial Development Authority.

 

As part of the closing, GMEDC is to provide payment to satisfy a lien that had been placed on the Elks property by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for non-payment of $1,610.66 in unemployment compensation, said Gordon Einhorn, vice chairman of GMEDC.

 

Einhorn said that the authority requested GMEDC provide the payment so that it can be made part of the settlement. Einhorn said the authority was concerned that if GMEDC sent the payment to the state ahead of time, the state might not process the paperwork and send it back in time for the closing.

 

The lien came about because a private payroll service that GMEDC had used had advised GMEDC to deduct for unemployment compensation at the “standard” rate, Einhorn said. 

 

“We should have been deducting at a higher amount,’’ he said. “We were just contributing at too low an amount, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 September 2014 19:25

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Six warehouses proposed for Longview area

 

The stretch of Longview Drive in Lower Swatara Twp. is a utopia to the residents who live there, a sight that is appreciated, yet can easily be taken for granted.

 

“During a recent conversation with a resident who travels Longview Drive, he said, ‘Where else can you travel in suburban sprawl and see corn growing on one side and soybeans growing on the other?’ “ resident Margie Hartz told township commissioners during a workshop meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 3.

 

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 20:11

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Council fires officer in wake of pursuit

Middletown Borough Council voted 8-0 on Tuesday, Sept. 2 to fire Joshua N. Reager, a part-time officer with the Middletown police department for the past eight years.

 

The council vote followed a closed-door executive session and was based on the recommendation of Mayor James H. Curry III.

 

Curry had retained an outside firm, Transparency Matters, to conduct an investigation of Reager’s actions during a police chase that occurred in Middletown shortly after 1 a.m. on May 15.

 

According to a certified letter dated Sept. 3 – signed by Curry – that the borough mailed to Reager, Reager was fired for violating the Middletown police department’s pursuit policy.

 

The letter said Reager was also being fired because he failed to review the pursuit policy in violation of a direct order given on Sept. 24, 2013, by then-borough Police Chief Steven Wheeler.

 

Finally, the letter said that Reager responded on his own to the pursuit, which had been initiated by Lower Swatara Twp. police, without being asked to do so – nor did Reager contact his shift supervisor to get authorization to become involved in the pursuit, according to Curry’s letter.

 

Curry’s letter said that a hearing on Reager’s case will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 15. The letter did not say where the hearing will be held or if the hearing is public. The mayor could not be reached for comment.

 

Middletown Patrolman Mark Laudenslager, who represents the Middletown Police Officer’s Association, could not be reached for comment regarding Reager, or whether the association will file a grievance on Reager’s behalf.

 

Reager’s action in stopping the vehicle led to the arrest of Dwight Reid, whom police later discovered was wanted in the shooting death of a man in a Harlem bar in January in New York City.

 

However, a report on the investigation by Transparency Matters said that neither Reager nor any of the other police officers knew that Reid was wanted for murder at the time of the pursuit, which started when the Lower Swatara officer saw Reid cross the fog line three times while heading east into Middletown on Route 230.

 

Reager had been a police officer for 20 years before the borough hired him, according to the report, a copy of which the Press And Journal obtained by filing a Right-to-Know request under Pennsylvania law.

 

The Transparency Matters investigation and the resulting report which led to Curry’s recommendation to fire Reager was done by retired Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. John R. “Rick” Brown. According to the Transparency Matters Web site, Brown formed the company after he retired from the state police in 2010.

 

The borough has not received an invoice from Brown for the Reager investigation and report, Middletown spokesman Chris Courogen said in response to a Right-To-Know request from the Press And Journal.

 

Courogen did not give a figure for Reager’s hourly pay rate. However, Courogen said that Reager had averaged $1,065 per week for his three highest periods over the past year.

Council’s action leaves the Middletown department with nine officers available for duty, including Acting Chief Sgt. James Bennett.

 

Curry has said no action will be taken to hire any new officers until after the mayor meets with Middletown’s new police chief, retired state police Capt. John Bey, to review manpower and receive a recommendation. Council voted to hire Bey on Aug. 18. The new chief was expected to be on board within about a month.

 

Curry, an attorney who specializes in workers’ compensation, ordered the investigation into Reager after questions related to the May 15 incident surfaced in the context of Reager’s subsequent workers’ compensation claim – a claim the borough denied.

 

Some of the key conclusions that Brown reached in his report are in opposition to what is contained in the criminal complaint regarding the incident that was filed by Lower Swatara police on June 4, as well as an accident report that was done for the Middletown Police Department by the Steelton Police Department to avoid a conflict of interest.

 

For example, according to the criminal complaint filed by Lower Swatara, Reid’s car initially slid into Reager’s car. According to the complaint, Reager then pushed Reid’s car with his own police vehicle, causing Reid’s car to turn 180 degrees and stop, facing the Lower Swatara police vehicle head on.

 

Brown criticized the Steelton report as “incomplete” in that it was based on Reager’s view of events “and nothing else.” Brown said that the Steelton report did not take into account the video of the crash from Reager’s cruiser that emerges in Brown’s investigation as the key evidence against Reager.

 

In his report, Brown said that the video shows that Reager’s cruiser initially struck Reid’s vehicle. The momentum from this first impact caused the two vehicles to collide a second time. After the second impact Reager intentionally struck Reid’s vehicle on the driver’s side to end the pursuit.

 

According to Brown’s report, Reager, while being interviewed during the investigation, acknowledged to Brown that his cruiser struck Reid’s vehicle first. Reager told Brown that the incident occurred very quickly, and that his initial recollection was that Reid’s vehicle had struck his.

 

Reager said his conclusion that his cruiser first struck Reid’s vehicle came after Reager watched the video frame by frame, along with Reager’s attorney from the Middletown Police Officer’s Association.

 

In his report, Brown recommended that the borough “consider initiating formal disciplinary action” against Reager, but the report did not specifically recommend his firing.

 

Nevertheless, the conclusion that Brown reached – that Reager had violated policy and should be disciplined – was not supported by Bennett, the report said. Brown said that Bennett’s review of the incident concluded that Reager was actively braking and attempted to avoid striking Reid’s vehicle. Bennett’s review said that Reager’s cruiser was struck by Reid’s car, and that Reager “was within the limits of the law,” had not violated the pursuit policy and should not be disciplined, according to Brown’s report.

 

In his report, Brown was also critical of Bennett for accepting the findings of the Steelton police investigation into the accident. Brown in his recommendations said that Bennett should seek to have Steelton reopen its investigation “to properly investigate the crash and correct the assertion that the suspect initially struck” Reager’s police vehicle.

 

Bennett did not respond to an e-mail request for comment from the Press And Journal.

 

Dan Miller: 717-944-4628, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 September 2014 19:57

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