Small Town Police Chief Hit With Actual Criminal Charges After Threatening A Critic With Bogus Criminal Charges

from the too-irresponsible-to-be-trusted-with-power dept

The corollary to "play stupid games, win stupid prizes" is that the thinner a public servant's skin is, the more damaging the outcome when they decide to abuse their power to get even.

That's the story that's buried under this rather dry recitation by the US Department of Justice, which has brought federal charges against the police chief of a small Pennsylvania town.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced today that Brian Buglio, age 45, of Lattimer Mines, Pennsylvania, was charged in a criminal information on May 27, 2021, with a civil rights violation.

According to Acting United States Bruce D. Brandler, the information alleges that Buglio, the Chief of Police for the West Hazleton Police Department, threatened a private citizen with criminal charges, in retaliation for social media posts created by the private citizen that were critical of Buglio and of the West Hazleton Police Department.

West Hazleton has less than 5,000 people, a population amount that tends to be described as "sleepy" or "quaint." But there's nothing quaint about Chief Buglio's behavior. It's as modern as it gets. It involves Facebook and the chief's inability to handle the sort of mudslinging that goes hand-in-hand with public service and social media usage.

Here's the much juicier description of Buglio's actions by Andrea Salcedo of the Washington Post.

Last March, West Hazleton, Pa., Police Chief Brian Buglio summoned a man to the police station to deliver an ultimatum, federal prosecutors said.

Either the man could delete Facebook posts he’d made slamming Buglio’s management of the department and his officers, and refrain from making any future critical comments — or else Buglio would fabricate felony charges against him.

“I said to Brian, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ” the victim, Paul DeLorenzo, told WNEP. “He goes, ‘Well, you like to post fake things and fake stories about me so, I could make up a fake arrest and put you in jail.’ ”

Lovely. That's the sort of abuse of power that generates additional critics of law enforcement. If cops want to be trusted, they have to be trustworthy. What they definitely shouldn't do -- especially when they run the local cop shop -- is threaten people with made-up criminal violations in hopes of shutting their mouths.

Chief Buglio now apparently realizes this is the sort of thing he shouldn't be doing. But that thought either never crossed his mind or wasn't considered a worthwhile concern last March when Buglio threatened his Facebook critic. At the time, it must have seemed like a pretty good idea, if only because it got the result Chief Buglio wanted.

Court papers say at the end of that meeting, DeLorenzo agreed to remove the posts, and the two shook hands.

But there's a twist. DeLorenzo approached the FBI office in Scranton with these allegations and an investigation was opened. It's now closed and Buglio is now officially a federal criminal. He has agreed to plead guilty to the charge and resign from his position. For the moment, he's still officially the town's police chief.

The best way for public officials to deal with social media loudmouths is to ignore them. The worst way is to abuse their power to shut them up. This outcome is a unicorn, though. In most cases, we're lucky to see a resignation ahead of an investigation or a brief suspension. In rare cases, we see criminal charges. But we don't see them often enough for them to act as a deterrent, ensuring there will be plenty of misconduct -- criminal or otherwise -- for the foreseeable future.

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Filed Under: 1st amendment, brian buglio, criticism, doj, threats, west hazleton police department

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  1. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:49am

    Power doesn’t corrupt — it reveals.

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