Fairview Township has settled a lawsuit with its fired police chief for $135,000, and without admitting any wrongdoing.
Last fall, former township police chief Scott Hockenberry sued six Fairview Township supervisors and the township manager, alleging wrongful termination, defamation of character, libel, slander and negligence.
Hockenberry, who was promoted to chief on March 16, 2012, had been seeking $1.5 million in damages.
He was fired by Fairview Township on Nov. 8, 2012.
Filed in York County Court, the lawsuit named as defendants John Minito, William "Chuck" Brown, Robert Stanley Jr., Mario Pirratino, Christopher Allen and John W. Jones — all current or former township supervisors — as well as township manager Stephen Smith.
According to his lawsuit, Hockenberry was told by township officials he was being fired for his handling of a prostitution arrest.
Confidential report: In October 2012, the township retained Anne Zerbe, an attorney with York's CGA Law Firm, to investigate Hockenberry and subsequently file a confidential report to township officials, according to the lawsuit.
Around the same time, a photograph began circulating in York County's law-enforcement community of an off-duty Hockenberry standing next to a topless woman at a party in Ocean City, Md.
The lawsuit states Hockenberry didn't send the photo to anyone and didn't consent to have it posted on the Internet.
In December 2012, residents wearing "Save our Chief" T-shirts attended a township supervisors' meeting. Several residents downplayed the photo and assumed it was the reason Hockenberry was fired.
Sting operation: But township officials later said it was the prostitution arrest, and not the photo of the topless woman, that caused them to terminate Hockenberry, according to the lawsuit.
Charging documents filed against the alleged prostitute state Hockenberry met her at a township motel as part of a sting operation.
Before arresting her, Hockenberry allowed her to remove all her clothing as well as his pants, and let her start trying to put a condom on his penis, documents allege.
The woman was then arrested and charged with prostitution. That charge was later dropped and she pleaded guilty to summary disorderly conduct, court records state.
Not illegal: York County District Attorney Tom Kearney, responding by email to a request from Zerbe about his recollections of the prostitution incident, noted what Hockenberry did was not illegal, but was inappropriate and "went beyond what we considered necessary" to make an arrest. The email is included in Zerbe's confidential report.
Kearney noted Hockenberry told him there was a language barrier with the alleged prostitute and that he believed his conduct was necessary to ensure there was enough evidence to make the arrest.
Hockenberry's lawsuit alleges Minito was seen showing the confidential report about Hockenberry to bar patrons in May 2013, and that in October 2013 township officials agreed to make the report public despite being advised not to by the township solicitor.
After being terminated, Hockenberry ran for township supervisor and eventually lost.
Election signs: The lawsuit alleged that during the election season, Stanley and Jones created a website called TheTruthAboutHockenberry.com, "with the specific purpose to defame, libel and slander the plaintiff," then paid for yard signs and a billboard along Interstate 83 advertising the website.
The lawsuit also claimed there were several reasons Hockenberry's termination was wrongful, including the fact that Police Tenure Act required Hockenberry be entitled to a public hearing on the matter within 10 days of being fired.
'Satisfied': Hockenberry referred comment to his Washington County-based attorney, Peter Daley II, who said a confidentiality clause in the settlement prohibits him from discussing the settlement in depth.
"It was agreeable to all the parties," Daley said. "I think everyone was satisfied."
David Jones, Fairview Township's solicitor, said the only comment he could make is to say a settlement was reached.
Fairview Township provided a copy of the settlement to The York Dispatch after the newspaper requested the document under the state's Right to Know Act.
In it, Hockenberry agreed his lawsuit will be dismissed within 10 days of receiving payment, and the township agreed to provide him with a neutral job reference.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com.