EDITORIAL: Sheriff owes public answers
York County Sheriff Rich Keuerleber is looking like his own worst enemy and the most significant threat to his political future.
On Wednesday, The York Dispatch reported a revolt among rank-and-file cops, with the White Rose Fraternal Order of Police pulling its endorsement of Keuerleber's re-election bid and voting to back his opponent Shane Becker.
The FOP's action was in response to Keuerleber's special treatment in July of local businessman Bill Hynes, a felon and accused domestic batterer, for whom Keuerleber rolled out the red carpet at the judicial center when Hynes showed up for a protection from abuse hearing.
York City Detective Jeremy Mayer, president of the lodge, said some members felt the sheriff misled people about the Hynes incident.
Keuerleber told The York Dispatch that Hynes parked in the judicial center’s secure lot — the same one judges and row officers use — the day of his hearing to visit Dargo, a sheriff's office K-9 officer, as well as to attend the PFA hearing. He subsequently later denied he said that.
"The majority of the focus was on the integrity and the trust of the sheriff," Mayer said of the FOB's decision. "He compromised that ... for the entire county."
And now there are allegations from a former deputy who claims Keuerleber directed his staff to pose for an ally's campaign photos while on the clock — if true, a clear breach of legal and ethical standards.
Former Deputy Sgt. Richard Reincke said investigators from the state Attorney General’s Office questioned him about the political campaign ad several months ago.
Keuerleber has now gone silent, with repeated calls for comment going unreturned Tuesday. Instead, York County GOP Chairman Jeff Piccola ran interference for Keuerleber.
When he did speak in July, shortly after the Hynes story broke, the sheriff was more indignant than apologetic, arguing it's his prerogative “to make exceptions to searches and screenings of persons entering the facility. I didn't violate any policies or procedures.”
The York County Commissioners disagreed, issuing a joint statement saying the sheriff’s actions amounted to a dereliction of duty.
The incident prompted Common Pleas Judge Craig T. Trebilcock to issue an interim emergency order requiring the sheriff's office to properly screen all members of the public coming into his courtroom.
The judge noted the commissioners "have unanimously concluded that the sheriff was derelict in his duty to properly screen a former felon who was admitted to a PFA proceeding ... to which the felon was a named party, without having been searched or screened through available metal detectors ... or X-ray screening, and after being afforded a special privilege to park in the same secure parking structure below this courthouse as the judge who would decide the outcome of his proceeding."
Trebilcock said he issued the security order because Keuerleber hadn't publicly indicated he intends to "desist from permitting those with prior serious criminal records from bypassing the security screening protocols."
It seems Keuerleber, an elected public official, believes he's above accountability. That trait is bad enough in any form of representative government and should erode voter confidence heading into November.
But the politics are ugly, too. Keuerleber apparently has concluded voters either don't deserve answers or they aren’t too concerned by the allegations of inappropriate behavior.
What's become increasingly obvious is that the sheriff believes that citizenship is tiered: There are people like Keuerleber and Hynes — plugged-in power brokers who make their own rules and owe no one an explanation. And then there's everyone else to whom the rules apply.
Unfortunately, for Keuerleber, he's an elected official and, come Nov. 5, the voters will have their say over whether he gets to maintain his fiefdom. Like it or not, the sheriff owes them answers.
Anything less should disqualify his candidacy.