Two paralegals fired by York County sheriff now working for ... York County

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
York County Judicial Center

Two paralegals fired from the York County Sheriff's Office less than a month ago are now working for the York County Office of the Public Defender.

Bruce Blocher, the county's longtime chief public defender, confirmed his office has hired Ronda Heilman and Lisa Thorpe to replace two paralegals who left the office.

"We had two openings, and two qualified individuals became available," he said. "It happened really rapidly."

Blocher said his office has five paralegals, so losing two was a significant loss.

"I'm very happy," he said about Heilman and Thorpe joining his staff. "I can tell you they're going to be good for our office."

Heilman, 52, worked in the sheriff's office for 20½ years. Her first day at the public defender's office was Monday, Jan. 27.

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"I am thrilled to still be working for the county," Heilman told The York Dispatch. "I've always been very proud to be an employee of the County of York, and I am very appreciative of the new opportunity that was given to me."

Lisa Thorpe, 54, was employed by the sheriff's office for 17 years and was a paralegal dealing with mortgage foreclosures before being let go, she said.

She started in the public defender's office on Jan. 21.

"(I'm) relieved to still be a county employee and so happy to be a part of the public defender's (office) and work under Bruce Blocher," Thorpe said on Tuesday, Jan. 28.

'No longer needed': She spoke with The York Dispatch in the days after she was let go by the sheriff, saying she was called into a conference room on Jan. 6.

"The sheriff was there and said my services were no longer needed," Thorpe said at the time. "I asked for a union rep and was refused. I asked to make a call to HR (human resources) because I didn't understand what I was signing, and I was refused."

Thorpe said she did sign a paper but isn't exactly sure what she signed because she didn't receive a copy and was upset at the time.

"They just said they were letting me go. They didn't technically say I was fired," she said. "My services were 'no longer needed' is what they said."

She said she's never been written up and that one supervisor told her the office was "going in a different direction."

Thorpe declined to say anything about the work environment at the sheriff's office but confirmed she would still be working there if it was her choice.

Heilman has also declined to give her opinion of why she was let go or what she thinks of the work environment in the sheriff's office.

Earlier this month, she confirmed that her disciplinary file is clean and that she was told the sheriff's office "is moving in a different direction."

Richard P. Keuerleber speaks after taking the oath of office as York County Sheriff during a ceremony at the York County Administrative Center Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Oaths of office were administered to county and court officials. Bill Kalina photo

Deputies fired: In addition to firing Heilman and Thorpe this month, York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber also fired three deputies. A fourth said she knew she was going to be fired so she resigned instead.

The personnel changes started happening within hours of Keuerleber being sworn in Jan. 3 to serve his fourth term in office.

That day, Cpl. Taylor Eck lost his job. He was the handler of sheriff's K-9 Tommi. The dog's new handler is deputy Sgt. Bienamino Lopez, the sheriff has said.

More:OP-ED: A letter to my 'son,' Tommi

Keuerleber fired Heilman, Thorpe and Deputy Christine Snyder on Jan. 6, then fired former Chief Deputy M. Scott Hose on Jan. 8.

Former York County Deputy Katie Blankenstein told The York Dispatch she feared she would be fired, so she found another law-enforcement job in the area and tendered her resignation on Jan. 6.

"I've never been late; I've never been written up," said Blankenstein. "I stay late. I come in early. I'm a good worker."

She said a high-ranking sheriff's supervisor told her, "I'm sure you're well aware you're not getting sworn in (again)." After a sheriff is reelected, he or she must give the oath of office to all their deputies but has the option not to reswear deputies the sheriff wants to terminate.

"To me that confirmed they were going to look for a reason to get rid of me when I've never done anything wrong," Blankenstein said.

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

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She gave two weeks' notice, but Keuerleber told her Jan. 6 would be her last day, she said.

The sheriff has declined to answer questions about any of the six former employees, saying he is prohibited from publicly discussing personnel issues.

"Everything is done for the benefit of the organization," Keuerleber said. "We look forward to restructuring and moving in a different direction."

He said that in an organization of more than a hundred people, a certain number will be unhappy or disgruntled.

Political payback? Blankenstein has said she believes she and others were targeted by Keuerleber and his top supervisors because they or family members supported Shane Becker, a former York County deputy who unsuccessfully challenged Keuerleber for sheriff in November's municipal election.

York County Sheriff's Deputy Kathleen Blankenstein did a security check on people before they could enter Operation Safe Surrender, held at Stillmeadow Church of the Nazarene's York City campus on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017.
(Dawn J. Sagert photo)

Before the election, a number of current and former deputies told The York Dispatch that a toxic work environment exists in the sheriff's office.

Keuerleber said that's not true.

According to Blankenstein, she was approached prior to the election by a supervisor while on duty who noted that Blankenstein's parents had a "Becker for sheriff" sign in their yard.  Becker ran for sheriff against Keuerleber in the primary and general elections.

"I said I have no control over what my parents do politically," after which the supervisor said, "They will make your life miserable," according to Blankenstein. She said she took that to mean her work life.

"I left because I knew I had to. I didn't have a choice," she said. "I would have worked there for 20 years."

Snyder has told The York Dispatch that her sister was a vocal supporter of Becker's campaign.

Hose is the son of retired York County Sheriff Bill Hose, who was publicly critical of Keuerleber prior to the election.

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