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
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 10:57am

    Ah blue privilege...

    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.

    Abuses his position to intimidate a member of the public, gets caught by the FBI and federal charges are brought and he's not only allowed to resign rather than being fired on the spot but he's still employed and getting paid until he gets around to doing so.

    Even when they get caught red-handed police are still given the silk-glove treatment, not exactly a good way to convince people that the legal system takes abuse of power and illegal actions by police seriously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Thad (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:22am

    Look, if you can think of a better way for an LEO to prove they're not corrupt than threatening bogus criminal charges against someone for calling them corrupt, I'd like to hear it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:23am

    TAC Truism:
    Power causes a form of brain damage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    ECA (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:31am

    I like

    Think skin on my Chicken. It fry's up better.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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

    I can’t wait to see all the people who whine about “censorship” on social media decry this instance of actual censorship.

    Any minute now… ⏲️

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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

    Power doesn’t corrupt — it reveals.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Retsibsi (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:57am

    Hmmm

    Not only does he get to keep on being paid until he actually resigns, he retains his pension rights when he does? (I am presuming he receives enhanced pension rights as a former LEO. but am open to correction on this)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2021 @ 1:41pm

    What does an "Acting United States Bruce" do, and how did D. Brandler rise to that position?

    Sounds more Australian to me, anyway...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2021 @ 3:59pm

    The problem is that it's usually those who are ignorant of the law who tend to abuse it. And many who enforce the law are ignorant of it.

    Then there's the people who know the law and abuse it; THOSE people tend to get away with it, because what they do to silence people is usually legal, just underhanded. Things like repeatedly suing twitter handles for defamation even if you have no hope of winning, because it's not legally harassment if you do it via the court system and pay for it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2021 @ 4:19pm

    Re:

    I had not considered the Australian angle, but i too would like to know.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 2021 @ 4:20pm

    I don't know how smallish places like Hazelton / West Hazelton manage to be shithole-ish so often.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Jun 2021 @ 11:56pm

    Re:

    The most saintly person can get power & suddenly they act like they have brain damage leaving them unable to understand their actions have consequences for them or others.

    I mean that one pope decided he totes could just quit after being chosen by god... ya gotta wonder what he did to end up locked up inside the vatican for the rest of his days. Normally they just send them to another pariash with no warning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Jun 2021 @ 1:47pm

    You're likely referring to pope Celestine V. He was a monk (and a hermit) that never wanted to be pope in the first place and got elected by basically writing an angry letter to the cardinals, who at that point had been in a deadlock for two years. It's said that he even first tried to refuse the position.

    He ruled for about 5 months. Afterwards he quit and his successor Boniface VIII threw him in prison under the logic that someone may try to reappoint him as an antipope. That practically was a death sentence for him due to his age. He died about 5 months later at age 81.

    Given that knowledge, Your example may not be all that fitting.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jun 2021 @ 2:30am

    Re:

    It's a British thing originally.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ojhtq51Ya8

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 6 Jun 2021 @ 6:36am

    Their size makes them vulnerable to a local level of fascism. Power in the hands of a small group of people reveals who they really are — and in cases like these, it reveals them to be petty assholes who abuse the power they have because they think that power lets them get away with it. They think no one will fight back or speak up because of fear.

    And really, fascism is a philosophy of fear — of both the “undesirables” who are seen as “the problem” and the leader who fixes problems (political or otherwise) through violence (political and physical). Corrupt small-town police rule by fear: “Look, you don’t want me to arrest you and ruin your life, right? So stop getting in my way and I won’t get in yours.” Their brand of “justice” is less about justice and more about revenge. Since revenge is a confession of pain, that “justice” makes others feel pain they don’t deserve to feel.

    What everyone in those towns seem to forget is a simple fact that would shift power in favor of the citizenry: The citizenry almost always outnumbers the cops. Even corrupt police can’t arrest/kill everyone in their small town without someone from the outside noticing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 6 Jun 2021 @ 10:25am

    Re:

    The problem is that it's usually those who are ignorant of the law who tend to abuse it. And many who enforce the law are ignorant of it.

    With the legal abomination that is QI if you have a badge ignorance of the law not only is a valid excuse it's a highly desirable state to have, such that in direct opposition to how the public is treated under the law those tasked with upholding it (theoretically anyway) have very strong motivation to know as little about the law as possible or at least pretend ignorance of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Sharur, 7 Jun 2021 @ 9:47am

    Re: Ah blue privilege...

    It may or may not actually be privilege...depends on if he's appointed or not; I could see a small town charter having the police chief be an elected position, with a fixed term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Wow, 26 Jun 2021 @ 5:51am

    They gave the chief a new job at the meeting last night. Almost the same with no arrant powers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    congxephongmen (profile), 7 Jul 2021 @ 1:43am

    Re: Re:

    a

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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