Reposted from February 11: Gadfly thinks Lehigh strikes out on the Packer proposal

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“Gadfly is not demanding that Council completely reject the street closing. He’s asking they demand Lehigh make a compelling case. A case that compels them.”
Gadfly, February 11, 2020

City Council tomorrow night will vote to enable the closing of Packer Avenue between Webster and Vine for a traffic study that will be a key determinant in the decision about a permanent closing. Gadfly has taken some heat for opposing the street closing. He hastens to say that he has an open mind on that decision. What he opposes is going ahead in even a preliminary fashion without a compelling case. Council needs to require convincing argument before it acts. Gadfly could fashion such a convincing argument. He challenges Lehigh to do so. And he challenges Council to withhold approval for the pilot study till they do so. And thus he reposts his thoughts from February 11.

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As you can see from the video in Gadfly’s previous post, at the February 4 Council meeting Lehigh presented three rationales for the Packer street vacation as it did January 23 at Broughal, but the rationales were not the same. Rationale #2 was different February 4. But rationales #1 and #3 were no stronger.

Lehigh presented “three major issues overlapping one another”:

1) safety of pedestrians:

Lehigh simply presented some facts about the number of Lehigh pedestrians who cross Packer Ave. The number is “substantial.” But the number of pedestrians crossing a street, even though huge, doesn’t logically prove there is a safety problem. What would prove there is a safety problem? Facts. Number of accidents. Number of injuries. Number of deaths. No data has been given. Where are the facts? Has the City recognized the central crossing of Packer as a danger? If so, why have they not recommended some remedy? Even if the data backs up a significant safety issue, have any number of other traffic calming tools been applied? Why go immediately to the most drastic option? The answer probably is that the three rationales are “overlapping,” and the most drastic option enables goal 3: a Packer Promenade of some sort. Without the successful completion of rationale #1, there can be no Promenade. Gadfly sees the promenade as Lehigh’s main goal.

2) the changing face of the Lehigh campus as it shifts downward toward Southside:

The downward shift is partly due to projects on campus but partly due to “our investment in the city.” Investment. That is, we have put money in. Note that this rationale #2 is not the same as the rationale #2 that was presented at Broughal. At Broughal, the stated rationale was “Better connecting Lehigh with South Bethlehem to have more [foot] traffic supporting the businesses” — the change is a recognition that no logical connection could be made between Packer open or closed and foot traffic at Southside businesses. Now no mention of impact on business is made. What is mentioned is money Lehigh has spent. That’s a big difference. Lehigh had to shift the argument. (Maybe they were reading Gadfly!)  And in the shift we find a bald quid pro quo (wheee!). Now Lehigh reminds the City of their “investment” in the Southside and their “partnership” in developing it. In effect, they are saying remember what we’ve done for you and with you. Now it’s time for you to do us a favor. In addition, there is the completely new element of opening up a “point of connection” with the Southside but not in the north-south direction of the prior rationale #2 but in an “east-west” direction. This is the first time we hear of an east-west connection with the Southside as a Lehigh or City goal. But what is there to connect east-west? North-south was connection with businesses and other understandable aspects of city life. What’s the point, function, goal of an increased east-west connection even if it could be shown that closing the street would effect one?

3) improving the pedestrian experience not only for the Lehigh community but the public at large:

Value for the Lehigh community is obvious. But for the public at large — which should be the Mayor and City Council’s prime concern — it is not. How much east-west “public” foot traffic is there? Gadfly is tempted to say virtually none. But are there any facts? Is there any data? There is no expansion on this third point. No rhetorical support. No elaboration. No description. No argumentation. No example. No persuasion.

Which for Gadfly adds up to no reason for City Council to approve even so preliminary and costless a step as a traffic study.

In Gadfly’s view, Lehigh has demonstrably not made a case with enough mental rigor for even a baby step to be taken toward closing Packer Ave.

It’s hard for Gadfly to see that closing Packer Ave. was on any City agenda in the same way as, say, refurbishing South New St. But let the case be made. Strongly. Before any action is taken.

(Gadfly wants to note among all his negativity that Lehigh indicated response to concerns about Broughal safety and expanding the area of the traffic study raised at the January 23 meeting, as well as commitment to shutting down the study/closure early if things aren’t working out. These are good things.)

to be continued . . .

The search: what triggered the search, and when did it happen?

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DiLuzio and Meixell to Greene 11 20 19
Englesson to Greene 11 29 19
Englesson to Donchez 12 20 19

So let’s talk about this incident.

What do we know, and what do we not know as we attempt to evaluate this situation of dueling complaints about a serious matter regarding racial profiling by a police officer or what we might call abuse of power by a district judge?

We’ll take it in small chunks. Think along with the Gadfly. And let him know your thoughts as we go. As always, contrary opinion invited.

Witnesses:

  • We don’t know if there are any “corroborators.” The arresting officer seems to have been alone at the traffic stop (the officer who made the second statement seems to have only been at the conversation with the Judge). Both officers say that the Judge “raised his voice” during their conversation, which the Judge denies. We don’t know if any of the Judge’s staff could weigh in on this point of contention.

The search:

  • We need a clear time line of the traffic stop events. For instance, when did the information about the warrant arrive, before the search of the car or after? The stop was for a traffic violation, which, on the face of it, would not seem to trigger a search of the car. The officer would write a ticket, and the driver would be on his way. It might not even necessitate the driver getting out of the car, which happened here at some point. What triggered the search, and when did it happen?
  • The officer described the search as a “consent search.” What exactly does that mean? The Judge indicates that a reason is normally given for such a consent search. The officer did not give one on his Affidavit of Probable Cause. Should he have? What was the probable cause for the search? We don’t know. In any event, the driver (through his conversation with the Judge) says he was not asked for nor did he give consent.
  • If the search happened after knowledge of the warrant out for a deported felon, would consent to search the car be necessary? Would that warrant constitute probable cause to search the car? Again, the question is what triggered the search, and when did it happen?
  • The wording of the arrested officer’s statement suggests that the arrest for marijuana came before the knowledge of the warrant (“was arrested for possession . . . his name also came back for a warrant”). The statement of the second officer more clearly indicates the marijuana arrest came first: “the male was in custody because of a drug arrest. While in Custody a deported felon warrant came back to the male’s name.” The Chief’s letter also seems to indicate that the man was “in custody” (synonymous for formally arrested?) for the marijuana violation when the warrant info arrived. The timing needs to be clarified. But we are brought back yet again to what triggered the car search, and when did it happen?
  • It appears that the marijuana arrest came first, came before knowledge of the warrant, and thus the legality of the car search is of paramount importance.
  • And that legality seems problematic because of the uncertainty about the officer’s motivation and the driver’s consent.

The charge:

  • The marijuana is several times referred to as a “small amount.” We have a recent ordinance that permits the officer to treat possession of a small amount of marijuana as a summary offense along the order of a traffic violation. Why did the officer not choose that option? (Maybe he did — Gadfly is not clear on this point from the available documents.)

to be continued . . .

Closing Packer Ave.: what would be a similar situation on the north side of town?

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Gadfly:

I was just talking with one of our retired police captains who thinks Packer Avenue should not be closed. As we were speaking the thought came to me, what would be a similar situation be on the north side of town. What I came up with was closing Goepp Street between Center and New Streets. Goepp isn’t the primary east/west route like Union Boulevard or Broad Street, or Union Boulevard and Elizabeth Avenue, but it provides relief for those roadways. It’s an alternative, which is exactly what Packer Avenue is in an even more densely compacted area. Very few people would support closing that stretch of Goepp Street either. Or, how about Moravian College asking to have Main Street closed from Ettwein Street to Elizabeth Avenue. It would still leave New and Center Streets to handle north/south traffic. I’m sure there are even more parallels. Again, a request for traffic calming measures I understand. Street closure I don’t.

Dana Grubb

Dueling complaints over the marijuana arrest

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Fellow local blogger Bernie O’Hare of the longer-standing and no doubt much more widely read Lehigh Valley Ramblings and I do not cover the same beat and rarely are posting on the same subjects. But this time we have. Click here for Bernie’s post yesterday.

This is the fourth post on an issue between the Bethlehem Police, specifically Chief Mark DiLusio and an unnamed officer, and District Judge Nicholas Englesson over the handling of a traffic stop of an Hispanic male that resulted in a marijuana charge and a subsequent November 14, 2019, conversation about the stop between the Judge and the arresting officer.

In yesterday’s post Gadfly published a letter from the Judge to the Mayor dated December 20. Just shy of two months ago. Gadfly doesn’t know what, if anything, has transpired since. The Council and the Mayor met in Executive Session before the last City Council meeting on a “personnel matter.” Could the meeting have been about this issue? Don’t know. Personnel matters are legitimately private. We would all want that if we were involved in such an issue.

But Gadfly is surprised that, as far as he knows, there has been nothing about this issue in our local news. Nothing. Did Gadfly receive these documents he posted the last three days “over the transom,” as it were, because the local news had decided to not cover the issue? Don’t know.

Should we not be talking about this?

Race. Racial profiling. Racism. Discrimination.

Not trivial matters.

Should we not be talking about this?

Bethlehem’s Hispanic population numbers about 30%.

Not a trivial number, though numbers shouldn’t “count” in moral matters.

Should we not be talking about this?

We have dueling formal complaints. If we believe the Judge, we may have a racially insensitive police officer in a city with a substantial Hispanic population. If we believe the police officer, we may have — Gadfly begs your pardon — a chief executive abusing his power and office.

We need to be talking about this, don’t we? (But Gadfly is always ready to accept a slap upside the head.)

Go back to that email Gadfly got from the Mayor, posted Wednesday:

“The City Administration is well aware of the matter. It has been thoroughly reviewed internally. The matter is the subject of an ongoing non-criminal investigation. We caution you not to speculate as to the nature of the ongoing investigation. We caution you that it would be inappropriate to assume the truth of the allegations. We caution you that it would be inappropriate to assume there is good cause for the allegations. The City Administration will have no further comment because the information and evidence are subject to confidentiality under Pennsylvania law. ”

It feels like a paragraph fashioned by a lawyer. Could be wrong. It feels like a message to shut up. Could be wrong. Tripled cautions. It feels like a gag order. Could be wrong. Caution = warning. It feels like a signal of personal danger ahead. Could be wrong.

But we really need to talk about this, don’t we? Even as an abstract Criminal Justice course exercise of how to handle racially charged situations.

to be continued . . .

The Judge files a complaint with the Mayor against the Chief of Police and the arresting officer in the marijuana matter

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This is the third post on an issue between the Bethlehem Police and a District Judge over the handling of a traffic stop of an Hispanic male that resulted in a marijuana charge and a subsequent November 14, 2019, conversation about it between the Judge and the arresting officer.

On November 20, the Bethlehem Police Department “lodged a complaint” with the Northampton County Court alleging that during that conversation the Judge accused the arresting officer of being a racist.

On November 29, the Judge described the events that led him to make a conscious choice to have a conversation with the arresting officer, but he denied accusing the officer of being a racist.

There follows a period of about three weeks during which we have no knowledge of what further, if anything, happens in regard to this issue.

Then, on December 20, the Judge makes a “formal complaint” to Mayor Donchez against Chief DiLuzio and the arresting officer. The Judge asks the Mayor to put a copy of the following letter “in their personnel files.”

Englesson to Donchez 12 20 19

The Judge cited the resistance of the arresting officer to the “constructive criticism” of his behavior during the incident and the “spurious complaint” filed by the Chief.

The Judge puts the City “on notice that the behavior of this officer, and the chief of police, is in danger of exposing the city to civil unrest among the Latino population, lack of cooperation with the police in their efforts to investigate crimes and protect the community, and, potentially, a civil rights lawsuit.”

The Judge references “yet another incident in which an Hispanic individual claimed to be harassed by the police [he does not claim that it was the same officer],” complained to the Chief about it, and never heard back from the Chief.

Serious matter.

Have you been reading and reflecting?

Are you ready to trade some thoughts on what we know?

The Judge responds to police concerns over conversation about a marijuana arrest

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Yesterday we posted a November 20, 2019, letter from Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio, co-signed by Deputy Chief Scott Meixell, to the Northampton County Court administrator with concern about a November 14 conversation between District Justice Nicholas Englesson and two police officers regarding a traffic stop of an Hispanic male and subsequent marijuana charge, a conversation in which the arresting officer felt he was accused of being racist. Statements by the two officers dated November 15 were posted with the letter.

Judge Englesson replied to the Court in a letter of November 29. In that letter the Judge cites a November 26 phone call from the Court administrator in which he learned that the Bethlehem Police Department “lodged a complaint” alleging that he “accused an unnamed officer of being a racist.”

Judge Englesson’s November 29 letter (with a final section redacted) can be found here:

Englesson to Greene 11 29 19

The Judge describes the events that led him to make a conscious choice to have a conversation with the arresting officer, and he denies accusing the officer of being a racist.

Gadfly hopes you would agree that this is a serious matter. And that you will take the time to read and reflect on both letters.

Marijuana arrest the subject of a dispute between the police and a judge

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On November 20, 2019, Bethlehem Police Chief Mark Diluzio wrote to Northampton County Court Administrator J. Jermaine Greene about a conversation District Judge Nicholas Englesson had with two Bethlehem Police officers relating to a traffic-stop arrest of an Hispanic man for possession of a small amount of marijuana, an arrest that revealed an outstanding warrant for a man with the same name as a deported felon. Deputy Chief Scott Meixell co-signed the letter with Chief Diluzio. Further investigation at headquarters indicated that the man was not the subject of the warrant.

Chief Diluzio was concerned about the racial character of the Judge’s conversation with the officers in, it was claimed, such remarks to the arresting officer as “I don’t want you hassling citizens because they speak Spanish.” The arresting officer said he felt that he was being accused of being racist. The two officers present at the conversation with the Judge gave statements about the conversation.

The letter signed by the Chiefs and the statements of the two officers can be found here:

DiLuzio and Meixell to Greene 11 20 19

The Chief writes that “The Bethlehem Police Department serves a diverse population which includes a substantial number of citizens from the Hispanic community. The Department has always fostered a positive relationship with members of that community.”

Judge Englesson responded to the Chief’s concerns in a letter to Court Administrator Greene dated November 29, 2019. That letter will be printed here tomorrow.

The Mayor has provided a statement to Gadfly as follows: “The City Administration is well aware of the matter. It has been thoroughly reviewed internally. The matter is the subject of an ongoing non-criminal investigation. We caution you not to speculate as to the nature of the ongoing investigation. We caution you that it would be inappropriate to assume the truth of the allegations. We caution you that it would be inappropriate to assume there is good cause for the allegations. The City Administration will have no further comment because the information and evidence are subject to confidentiality under Pennsylvania law. ”

By “allegations,” Gadfly assumes the Mayor means allegations from both sides, for Judge Englesson has a side of the event too, as we will see tomorrow.

As usual, Gadfly recommends going to the primary sources. Withholding judgment till you hear all sides is a good thing.

There’s a significant Public Safety committee meeting March 3 at 5:30 in Town Hall on questions about the police application of our relatively new marijuana decriminalization ordinance. Both the Mayor and committee chair Michael Colon have indicated to Gadfly that the subject of Chief DiLuzio’s letter will not be discussed there.

Judge Englesson’s response tomorrow.