Former California Borough police chief Rick Encapera is suing the borough for reinstatement to his former rank.
Encapera was demoted to patrolman during council’s reorganization meeting on Jan.4, with no explanation. Council voted 4-3 in favor of the demotion, with council members Sheila Chambers, Shelly Roberts, Donna Bridges and Gerald Gardner voting for the demotion and Jon Bittner, Patsy Alfano and Anthony Mariscotti voting against it.
At that same meeting, by the same 4-3 vote, council voted not to retain solicitor Keith Melenyzer, street commissioner Pat Vitchoff or code enforcement officer Bruce Large. Melenyzer is representing Encapera in the lawsuit. Melenyzer said he does not have a conflict of interest in representing the former police chief.
“There was nothing I had gleaned as solicitor that gives me an advantage,” Melenyzer said. “They never had any advice from me regarding Rick. I had no idea they were going to take the action that they did. Since they never delineated anything that he did wrong, I have no conflict.”
According to the suit, the Pennsylvania Borough Code lists specific reasons allowed for demoting, suspending or removing a police officer or paid firefighter, including physical or mental disabilities affecting the person’s ability to serve, neglect or violation of any official duty or committing a misdemeanor or felony. Other reasons include inefficiency, neglect, intemperance, immorality, disobedience of orders or conduct unbecoming of an officer, intoxication on duty or participating in any political or election campaign other than exercising his right to vote.
“A written statement of any charges made against any person so employed shall be furnished to such person within five days after the same are filed,” the borough code states.
Melenyzer said the borough has not given Encapera any reason for the demotion, even though the law required that action by Jan. 9. Encapera did receive a letter from council dated Jan. 5 informing him that he was not reappointed as chief of police, but no reason was given for the demotion.
The suit is seeking back pay retroactive to Jan. 4, attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.
The current borough solicitor, Ernest DeHaas, Monday stated that he has not yet seen the complaint and will respond appropriately once he has seen it.