Chester to fill police department ranks

CHESTER – Chester City Council took action Monday to stop the revolving door at the Chester Police Department, although it wasn’t quite the action that Mayor Larry Forsythe had wanted.

With this week’s expected departure of Patrolman Clint Schon, council authorized Police Chief Ken Thorn to use the current civil service list to hire Schon’s replacement. Schon is taking a job as a deputy with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department.

The Chester Police Department has lost three officers to the sheriff’s department since May, prompting concerns about turnover and police protection in the city.

In May, when Chester Police Lt. Dante DiJirolanio and Patrolman Garrett Barnhart left for the sheriff’s department, council took emergency action and hired former Hancock County Chief Deputy Todd Murray as assistant chief and Brandon Whittaker as a probationary officer.

Chester’s current force consists of Thorn, Murray and Whittaker, who is scheduled to leave for the West Virginia State Police Academy in September. Whittaker will be gone for 16 weeks.

Veteran Officer Pete Bowen has been on sick leave for a broken hand since May and is expected to return sometime later in August, Thorn said. After getting his cast off, Bowen required five weeks of physical therapy, Thorn said.

Probationary Patrolman Brent Bergman is expected to graduate from the police academy on Aug. 15 and return to the department on Aug. 17, Thorn said. Bergman was hired in November 2013 to fill the vacancy left by the firing of Officer Eric Maruca.

With Thorn, Murray, Bowen and Bergman doing patrols, and Whittaker at the academy, that will leave one vacancy – a situation that put council at odds with Forsythe on Monday.

Forsythe wanted to bring back former Officer Becky Haught, who left the department for personal reasons in October 2013. Council, meeting in special session, discussed the hiring in a 45-minute executive session.

Forsythe said hiring Haught, even if only on a temporary basis, would have saved the city $19,000 in training expenses. Haught’s appointment would have been for 90 days, with the potential for her to stay on longer, he said.

“We were brainstorming one day and trying to come up with some names,” he said. “She said she would be interested (in coming back).”

Councilman Ed Beaumont made a motion to hire Haught, but the motion died for lack of a second. Council then voted 4-1 to authorize Thorn to hire from the civil service list, which currently has five names on it.

Thorn said Forsythe’s recommendation, although appreciated, was not for an adequate length of time.

“He knew we were in a bad spot, and he wanted to help us out,” Thorn said.

Haught served on the department for nearly five years.

Also Monday, council gave a first reading to an ordinance that will codify the position of deputy chief.