WILKES-BARRE — Mayor Tony George on Thursday defended his firing of Officer Dan Duffy, saying he feared for the safety of his family after receiving a threatening email last month from the patrolman who also serves as union vice president.
The email sent Sept. 16 by Duffy asked the administration to intervene in the deteriorating working relationship between members of the Police Benevolent Association and Commander of Patrol Ron Foy.
Duffy wrote: “Your failing to act on a ‘problem laying in wait’ may be a costly one, both tangibly and intangibly. It is a matter of time (sic) someone will need to answer for this.”
George, a former city police chief, said he took that as a threat. “Does that mean he’s coming after my kids or my family?” he asked.
City Administrator Ted Wampole, who also received the email, said parts of it were threatening.
But the administration did not pursue criminal charges against Duffy.
“We looked at it as to be treated as a personnel matter more than anything,” Wampole said.
PBA President and Police Sgt. Phil Myers said Duffy had no intention of harming anyone.
“We don’t see the threat,” Myers said.
Duffy, a member of the force since 2014, instructor at the Lackawanna College Police Academy in Scranton and former Scranton police chief, was acting on behalf of the PBA and made that clear in the email posted on the union’s Facebook page, explained Myers.
Myers said Duffy was not making any public statements at this time. Duffy did not return a call left Thursday. He was given a termination notice at 2 p.m. Wednesday after his shift ended, Myers said.
The union has started the grievance process to get Duffy reinstated and asked that his case immediately go to arbitration, bypassing appeals to the mayor and Police Chief Marcella Lendacky, according to Myers.
“We are completely confident Dan will be back on the streets as a patrolman,” Myers said.
The firing further widened the divide between the union and the administration and added to the disciplinary actions imposed on PBA members this year, including a prior suspension notice to Duffy. On one side stands the union that has questioned Lendacky’s qualifications to lead the department. The administration stands on the other side in support of the chief, who the mayor sees as someone trying to straighten out a department used to getting its way.
Myers said neither the mayor nor Wampole, who also was asked to intervene, tried to contact Duffy or the union about any concerns with the email.
The union, on the other hand, did try to contact the administration, he added. “There were attempts to reach out to clear the air,” Myers said.
Instead, the administration began an internal investigation of Duffy, who was already facing suspension for allegedly disclosing confidential department policy in a post on the union’s Facebook page in April.
Myers, too, was notified of a suspension for the posting and was unsure if he was next in line to be fired in what he saw as an effort by the administration to retaliate against him and Duffy and bust the union representing more than 70 patrolmen, sergeants, lieutenants and detectives.
“Honestly, I have no idea,” Myers said of possibly being terminated.
City council recognized the growing rift and earlier this month voted to bring in the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association to conduct an organizational assessment of the department. It would be up to the administration to act upon the recommendations afterward.
George said he met with R. Dave Merryman and Joseph Blackburn of the PCPA on Wednesday and the organization will come up with a cost for the review.
“I want this done, too,” George said.
The assessment came up during council’s public meeting Thursday night that Lendacky and Foy attended.
Foy declined comment on the firing. Lendacky quickly left the meeting and did not stick around to answer questions.
Wampole said the meeting with the PCPA on Wednesday covered the scope of the assessment. He said the association provided a rough draft of the scope by Thursday afternoon.
“They’ve been very attentive and I’m very impressed so far,” Wampole said.
‘Goal is union busting’
Meanwhile, the mayor wasn’t backing down from his firing of Duffy.
In the email that cost him his job, Duffy criticized Foy for acting before knowing the facts on more than one occasion, including the case of an unidentified officer who was to report for a special detail assignment at Wilkes University.
“By allowing Commander Foy to continue untouched, you are both turning your heads and failing to control or supervise him,” Duffy wrote.
“A list of matters involving Commander Foys (sic) conduct has been maintained. Eventually it may be exposed publicly and it will reflect on you directly. Your failing to act on a ‘problem laying in wait’ may be a costly one, both tangibly and intangibly. It is a matter of time (sic) someone will need to answer for this,” he wrote.
George responded by email five days later on Sept. 21.
“First of all, I do not appreciate being threatened. However I will answer your complaint,” the mayor wrote.
He went on to say he supported Foy and that the commander acted appropriately in questioning the officer who did not perform his duty and failed to work the special detail.
“As a former chief you should realize that incidents like this have orginazatons (sic) question the integrity of our department,” the mayor wrote.
“I willl (sic) not tolerate this,” he continued. “Your issue is with the officer not the Commander.”
During an interview Thursday in his office at City Hall, the mayor pointed out that Foy issued an apology after getting additional information that the officer contacted Wilkes about not being able to work the detail.
“They didn’t include that,” the mayor said of the union’s statement on Duffy’s firing.
Myers confirmed Foy admitted he was wrong. But Foy’s email was sent Sept. 18, two days after Duffy asked the mayor and Wampole to intervene.
Myers dismissed the apology and the threat claim as an attempt by the mayor to divert attention from the state of the force.
Duffy and the officer in question did nothing wrong, Myers maintained.
As far as the threat, the administration interpreted the email “the way they wanted,” Myers said.
“We believe their underlying goal is union busting. There’s no doubt that that’s their intention here.”