HAZLETON — City police Chief Frank DeAndrea on Monday denied that he or any of his officers accosted a woman collecting signatures for an election petition, calling the claim “repugnant.”
Andrew Ostrowski, who is running unchallenged on the Democrat ballot for the 11th District seat of U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, filed a federal lawsuit March 7 alleging a city police officer stopped a young Latino woman from collecting signatures for Ostrowski’s nominating petitions, told her she needed a permit from City Hall to do that and confiscated the petitions.
Ostrowski stated the alleged actions violated his civil rights and the civil rights of the woman. He also stated the police officer, who was not named in the lawsuit, as well as other city employees, were trying to impede his run for Congress “in the form of supportive efforts” for Barletta, and that they were doing so at Barletta’s “overt behest.”
At a news conference Monday in City Hall, DeAndrea said he learned of the allegation on March 5 when someone contacted him and told him that he (DeAndrea) was stopping people from collecting signatures for a candidate in the election unless they paid the city $50.
DeAndrea said he asked the person who contacted him to have the person who was reporting that the incident occurred to contact him, as he had no knowledge of it. He said he did not direct his officers to do perform such a task. DeAndrea said no one called him or his department to make a complaint.
He also said he spoke with each officer individually on two separate occasions and is satisfied none of them had knowledge of such an incident.
Using a term from Ostrowski’s lawsuit, DeAndrea on Tuesday said Ostrowski’s claims were “facially repugnant,” criticized him for not researching the matter before filing suit and suggested that Ostrowski contacted the media about the lawsuit in “an obvious attempt at getting notoriety, free advertising and splitting a community in half.”
And to claim that a police department was acting on the “overt behest” of a congressman is “despicable,” DeAndrea said.
He said he received an email from Ostrowski on March 10 and subsequent voice mail messages “apologizing for filing a lawsuit prior to speaking with me, but he did so to protect himself.” He said Ostrowski told him if the officer apologized and returned the petitions, he would drop the lawsuit because “Hazleton does not need any more litigation.”
DeAndrea found it offensive that Ostrowski “would willfully attempt to create an uprising and cause civil unrest” in the community, and he found Ostrowski’s statements about dropping the lawsuit “repugnant to the core. If I were running for Congress and I was truly concerned for the rights of my constituents, I would never exchange those rights for the return of my personal election petition,” he said.
DeAndrea said he welcomed any law enforcement agency or electoral committee to further investigate the issue.