Police shake-ups in county continue

CHESTER – The shake-up of city police departments in Hancock County continued on Monday with the hiring of one Chester officer and the firing of another.

Chester City Council voted Monday to hire Hancock County Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy Clinton Schon, of Chester, to fill the vacancy left by Officer Becky Haught, who resigned from the Chester Police Department for personal reasons on Oct. 11.

In the same meeting, council fired Patrolman Eric Maruca, of New Cumberland, who is under investigation for unspecified allegations not related to his work as a Chester police officer. Maruca joined the Chester department in July after serving eight years with the New Cumberland Police Department.

Both the Chester and New Cumberland police departments have suffered from officer resignations in recent months, leaving them short-staffed. Officials in both cities have stayed busy trying to fill the vacancies, often hiring from the same pool of officers.

Chester City Council’s decision to hire Schon comes just four days after New Cumberland City Council extended an offer to Schon. New Cumberland Mayor Linda McNeil said Monday night that she was waiting to hear from Chief Lester Skinner as to which offer Schon had accepted.

New Cumberland City Council met in special session last week to address the police turnover issue, voting to hire Schon and Kevin Richman, of New Cumberland, and naming Donald Longstreth as an alternate. Schon and Richman were named to fill the vacancies left in July by Maruca’s departure for Chester and newly sworn Officer Brian Cave’s departure from the West Virginia State Police Academy in Dunbar, W.Va.

Maruca had been with the Chester department about two months when the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department began an investigation based on a complaint. Chester City Council put Maruca on paid administrative leave on Sept. 27. Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said the investigation is ongoing.

On Monday, Chester Councilman Dennis Murray recommended Maruca’s firing because of a “lack of confidence in his performance for the city of Chester.” Council’s vote was unanimous.

Afterward, Murray declined to elaborate but said, “I think things caught up with him.”

Chester Police Chief Ken Thorn said now there will be another vacancy to fill.

“My department won’t be affected, other than a shortage of manpower. We’ve been there before,” he said.

Thorn said Patrolmen Dante DiJirolanio and Garrett Barnhart are “going the extra mile” and working overtime. “I’m not concerned about a lack of enforcement. We’ve got all our hours covered,” Thorn said.

Earlier this year, Chester lost longtime police Lt. James Bryan, who retired, and newly sworn Officer Markas Dunlevy, who resigned before entering the policy academy.

Thorn said Schon was one of three candidates interviewed for the patrolman job. He scored 78 out of a possible 100 on the Chester civil service test administered in June.

Also Monday, council agreed to solicit bids to determine the scope of a project to replace an underground storm sewer in the area of First Street. The storm drain was overwhelmed by flooding in July, causing damage to private property owned by Don and Cindy Harris.

City Solicitor April Raines said the advertisement will ask for companies to give a recommendation on the required work and a cost estimate. The city’s insurance company determined the line is the city’s and agreed to pay at least part of the Harrises’ claim.

Councilmen Mike Dotson and Steve Shuman said there also are state-owned drains in the area.

“I don’t believe it’s all our responsibility,” Shuman said.

“As a practical matter, we need to address it,” Raines said. “We need to fix it first. We can pursue any claims against third parties later.”

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)