CANONSBURG – A Canonsburg police officer was suspended for 10 days following a letter from District Judge David Mark to the borough police chief documenting a pattern of alleged disrespectful and threatening behavior.
Canonsburg Council on Dec. 21 voted 5-1-1 to suspend Sgt. James Spingola for 10 days after alleged threats to Mark and his office staff. Councilmen John Severine abstained, and Paul Sharkady voted against the suspension.
In the November letter obtained by the Observer-Reporter, Mark wrote he felt the need to formally lodge a complaint in order to “protect the integrity of (his) office, and to protect (himself), (his) staff … and ultimately the general public that are served by the Canonsburg police department.”
The letter said “on May 11, (Mark) was approached by Sgt. Spingola, while on duty and driving a police cruiser in the back parking lot of the Canonsburg borough building, and in a very derogatory manner stopped (Mark) and issued a verbal threat that if (his) office did not schedule his hearings to his liking, he will stop writing citations and (Mark’s) office caseload will suffer to the point that one of (Mark’s) staffers will lose their job.” Mark also wrote Spingola said he would walk out of court hearings to answer dispatch calls, which he followed through on, according to the letter.
“He did not attempt to allow another officer, nor ask another officer to take (calls). Standard protocol has been for a police officer in court to pass on a call to other officers on duty. … I could hear the call, which was not deemed an emergency, nor did the Sergeant attempt to pass the call on to another officer. Sgt. Spingola did not have the courtesy to request permission from the Court to leave or even offer a plausible or courtesy explanation,” said the letter, “It seemed quite clear to me that Sgt. Spingola’s motives and actions were to disrespect me and my office, and disrupt the operations of it; the latter of which he accomplished.”
The letter said the pattern of behavior continued “four to six weeks ago,” which would be September and October of last year.
“Sgt. Spingola would abruptly, rudely and without permission of the court, walk out of his hearing duties when a non-emergency call came over the radio. … This matter was immediately reported to you (Chief Alex Coghill), as you were kind enough to sit in on the remainder of his hearings,” said the letter.
Two more incidents were documented in the letter: Spingola allegedly tailing a district court clerk to harass her, and allegedly pulling over a close friend of Mark’s and harassing him during a traffic stop.
“In November, my head secretary watched Sgt. Spingola turn his police cruiser around and pull up to accost her. In a very derogatory and intimidating tone and manner, he issued a threat that he will stop writing citations so that others would lose their jobs. (The clerk) specifically mentioned (Mark) and other clerks in a demeaning and insulting way, and that he didn’t care if (Mark) died,” said the letter.
“On Nov. 10, Spingola pulled over a close friend of (Mark’s), Peter Lauterbach, after he had given a ride home to one of (Mark’s) clerks. Spingola pulled him over claiming he ran a stop sign, interjecting (Mark’s) name for no apparent reason than, in (Mark’s) opinion, to send a message to (Mark).”
“Mr. Spingola cannot be allowed to bully, intimidate and threaten me and my staff. My staff and I are very concerned and in fear of him. His conduct must be investigated and stopped,” said the letter.
Canonsburg Mayor Dave Rhome and outgoing council president John Bevec both declined to comment, saying it was a personnel issue. Coghill and Mark also declined to comment. Spingola could not be reached for comment.