Concerned about crime? York County sheriff, magistrate now say 'no' to information you need

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Judicial Center

The York County Sheriff's Office said it will no longer provide the public with arrest paperwork or in-house mug shots of defendants who go through the county's central booking unit after being arrested.

About a half hour after The York Dispatch left phone messages with York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber about the lack of information, one of the sheriff's deputy lieutenants sent out an email to York-area newspapers and other media.

Lt. Shawn Malehorn's Thursday, Jan. 30, email states:

"Effect(ive) Monday January 20th, 2020 per the request of the President Magisterial District Judge David Eshbach, on behalf of all York County Magisterial District Judges, the York County Sheriff's Office will no longer disseminate any and all Photos or criminal complaints pertaining to criminal matters by Central Booking. You are advised to obtain this information through open media sources, Magisterial District Offices, or the Arresting/Filing Agency."

A former sergeant of the York County Sheriff's Office said he and other deputies were called in while on duty to change their uniform shirts and pose for campaign photos with Jonelle Harter Eshbach's 2017 election bid for district attorney. Eshbach said she assumed they were on their own time.

Eshbach is currently president of the York County Magisterial District Judges Association. The county's 19 district judges make up the association and elect officers to represent them in dealings with York County and state officials.

It's unclear what authority Eshbach has over booking photos taken in a county office.

Judge's directive: In a phone interview, Malehorn said questions about the change in policy should be directed to Eshbach.

"That's directly from the judge," he said of the changes. "I'm not sure what the concerns were."

On Thursday afternoon, Eshbach said in an email that he and York County Common Pleas President Judge Joseph C. Adams were aware of "your concerns."

"After further review, we will get back to you," he wrote.

Neither Adams nor Keuerleber returned messages seeking comment on Thursday.

What is central booking?: The central booking unit is a public agency funded partially with taxpayer money and partially by fees assessed to the defendants who go through the unit.

Police officers from around York County go there to drop off defendants, who are kept in holding cells until they can be arraigned on their charges and have bail set.

Defendants are photographed at central booking as part of that process.

District Attorney candidate Jonelle Eshbach and York County Sheriff Richard P. Keuerleber wait results at The Vault in Weigelstown, Tuesday May 16, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Malehorn said the booking unit then sends out those photos to the arresting police agency and to the state.

Until Jan. 22, the booking unit sent booking mugs to York's newspaper and television media twice a day, after morning arraignments and after evening arraignments.

In York, reporters usually obtain charging documents from the district judge office handling the case, but in the past have requested and received charging documents at the booking unit when district judge offices were closed, such as on holidays.

The booking unit is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

No 'secret courts': Pennsylvania News Media Association attorney Melissa Melewsky said she believes the mug shots taken at the booking unit — and the charging documents filed with the unit — should be public.

"They are administrative records showing government action against citizens," she told The York Dispatch. "We don't have secret courts in the United States of America."

Keuerleber began serving his fourth term as sheriff on Jan. 3.

York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber

Shane Becker, a former York County deputy, ran against him in a race that became contentious.

Current and former deputies alleged the sheriff fosters a toxic work environment and has terminated people who were perceived to have supported Becker's campaign.

The sheriff has said personnel changes were for the benefit of the sheriff's office and had nothing to do with political payback. He said his office is changing direction.

More:York County deputies, paralegals lose jobs; sheriff says office changing direction

More:York sheriff fosters toxic work environment, say former sheriff, ex-deputies

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Personal ties: Keuerleber has ties to Eshbach and his wife, Jonelle Harter Eshbach.

The sheriff served as Jonelle Harter Eshbach's campaign manager during her unsuccessful 2017 election campaign for York County district attorney.

During last year's sheriff's race, former deputies said Keuerleber had directed deputies to pose with her for a campaign ad while they were on duty — an allegation Keuerleber said isn't true.

More:Ex-deputy: Sheriff had on-duty deputies pose for campaign ad

David Eshbach was chief of Springettsbury Township Police before being elected district judge for the Dover Township area, where he lives.

He was hired by the sheriff on Nov. 7, 2011, to work full time for about two months as a deputy, between the time he retired as chief and before he was sworn in as district judge. His hourly wage was the standard wage made by new deputies at the time — $16.65 per hour, according to documents from the York County Human Resources Department.

"It's no secret that I worked there. ... I was in-between jobs," he told The York Dispatch in September. "I worked there for basically two months. I was in booking and I went and watched arraignments and saw how that process worked.

"At the time, there was money that had to be collected from (MDJ offices) and ... paperwork that needed to be exchanged," David Eshbach said, adding that was one of his job duties.

Keuerleber in September said that "everything was on the up and up" regarding David Eshbach's hiring.

Salary board: Steve Chronister, who spent 12 years as a York County commissioner until 2015 and served on the county's salary board, said row officers have wide latitude to hire and fire at will, and that county commissioners have very little say over that process, other than approving salaries.

"From what I remember, we weren't told it was a temporary position, or who it would be for," he said. "But that's generally the way it is with the salary board — it's about positions, not people."

Chronister said it wasn't normal for someone to be hired for two months.

"I think it maybe would've been a better thing to be forthcoming about it," he told The York Dispatch.

Current Commissioner Doug Hoke and former Commissioner Chris Reilly also served on the salary board at the time. They said they don't remember details about Eshbach's hiring.

Hoke said the sheriff hasn't yet briefed him about the booking unit no longer releasing mug shots to the public, so he is unable to comment about it. 

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.