Neighbor: ‘I saw him in the yard. I saw him jump the fence’

Last updated: June 25. 2014 11:39PM - 2959 Views
By - rdupuis@timesleader.com

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WILKES-BARRE — A strained relationship between Wilkes-Barre Township Fire Chief John Yuknavich and a man who lives behind the fire hall has spawned yet more legal action.

Yuknavich, 50, faces a trespassing charge in connection with a May 1 incident on the property of South Walnut Street resident Joseph Naperkowski, a critic of township government.

The charge is a non-traffic citation, to which Yuknavich entered a not-guilty plea on June 12. He is scheduled to appear before District Judge Diana Malast for a summary trial in the case. Luzerne County President Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr. on Tuesday approved a transfer of the case from District Judge Michael G. Dotzel.

Efforts to reach Yuknavich or defense attorney Barry Dyller were not immediately successful.

In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Naperkowski told The Times Leader that he saw Yuknavich jumping a fence to leave his property shortly before midnight on May 1.

Naperkowski said he went outside and discovered that someone had punctured the lining of a new above-ground pool on his property, causing $2,500 worth of damage. He called police, who came to investigate later that day.

Naperkowski also admits he did not see Yuknavich damage the pool.

“I saw him in the yard. I saw him jump the fence,” Naperkowski said.

Naperkowski in March filed a lawsuit against Yuknavich and the department, claiming a camera mounted on department property is aimed at his home and invading his privacy.

“The direction of defendant’s camera allows the camera to record activities on plaintiff’s grounds and deck and into plaintiff’s home through the windows of his home,” the suit says.

The case remains pending.

The pair have tangled in court before.

In 2009, Naperkowski filed a defamation suit against Yuknavich, claiming Yuknavich made “false and defamatory” statements about him at a June 1, 2009, council meeting.

According to the 2009 suit, Yuknavich stated at the meeting that Naperkowski said to him, “I’ll kill you; I’ll kill your mother; I’ll kill your family and I’ll even kill the mayor if he don’t straighten you out.”

An agreement between Naperkowski and Yuknavich was reached in October 2012, after opening statements were completed at trial, but before testimony began. Attorneys told The Times Leader at that time they could not divulge information about the type of agreement reached.

Yuknavich, meanwhile, remains under a federal microscope over allegations that he mishandled department funds.

Dyller and Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis confirmed in May that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is investigating theft allegations against Yuknavich, with the result that one of two county cases against him was delayed. Altogether, he is accused of stealing more than $60,000 from the fire department and making personal purchases with a company credit card.

Dyller previously has maintained his client’s innocence in those cases and questioned why federal officials are involved.

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