Judge finds Westmoreland’s top deputy sheriff guilty of harassment
Patricia Fritz, Westmoreland County’s chief deputy sheriff, was found guilty Tuesday of a summary harassment offense in connection with a physical confrontation with the union president who represents office deputies.
Fritz, 63, of Mt. Pleasant, said she will appeal the finding and a $300 fine issued by Greensburg Magisterial District Judge Chris Flanigan, who ruled after hearing nearly three hours of evidence that included testimony from Sheriff Jonathan Held.
Fritz did not testify.
County detectives charged her based on a complaint filed by sheriff’s Cpl. Steve Felder, who claimed he was twice pushed and repeatedly poked in the chest during a union grievance hearing on Aug. 7 at the courthouse. Felder said he was not injured during the confrontation.
Felder testified he attempted to end the meeting after it became clear there was an impasse. He said Fritz blocked his path as he moved to leave the room, ordered him to return to the conference table and made physical contact with him.
“It was intimidating,” Felder said, describing Fritz as out-of-control as she screamed at him during the incident.
Deputy Rob Orbin, who was in the room during the meeting, corroborated Felder’s story, saying Fritz was the aggressor.
“Cpl. Felder didn’t do anything but just stand there,” Orbin testified.
Held suspended both Fritz and Felder following the incident. Both returned to duty after serving two weeks on paid suspension, although county commissioners have barred Fritz from county property. She has worked from home, Held said.
Held testified on Frtiz’s behalf, saying he witnessed the moment that Felder stormed out of the conference room.
“I heard Cpl. Felder yelling, and I figured I better get out there and calm things down,” Held testified. “I went into the meeting room and observed Chief Fritz behind the door as if she was trapped behind it.”
Held said he, too, ordered Felder to return to the meeting and issued the suspension for insubordination when he refused to do so.
Lt. Denise Appleby, also in the room during the incident, said she did not see Fritz physically contact Felder.
The confrontation is the most recent incident in what has become a controversy-marred sheriff’s office.
Held awaits trial on allegations of public corruption based on complaints filed by members of his own staff. The two-term sheriff has maintained his innocence and suggested the allegations that h ordered deputies to perform campaign chores while on rite were raised by disgruntled staff.
Held testified Tuesday that many of his staffers, including Felder, never embraced the move in 2014 when he promoted Fritz from a part-time deputy to the department’s second-in-command.
“The day after the promotion, Felder said I can’t believe you put a (expletive) in charge of us,” Held testified.
Defense lawyer Vicki Kuftic Horne compared the allegations against Fritz to other current events, including allegations made by women against men in authority positions.
“You have maybe for political reasons, maybe it’s for personal reasons, people who are willing to take action and do things against woman in positions they are not and would never happen against a man,” Horne said.
Felder is more than eight inches taller and about 100 pounds heavier than Fritz, Horne said. As a result, she said his allegations don’t make sense.