Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bethlehem Cop Skips Star Chamber Treatment

Bethlehem police officer Richard Hoffman decided to skip his termination hearing before City Council last night. I don't blame him. He'll fare far better in arbitration than in those Star Chamber proceedings. This matter was uncontested, but Solicitor Bill Leeson still paraded 11 witnesses to tell us that Hoffman has been very naughty. 

The official hanging will occur March 4. Council will wring their hands and piously vote to fire this ten-year veteran. Public works will set up the gallows in Payrow Plaza, right where the Advent candles are lit. But Hoffman will slip the noose. In arbitration, he's going to win.  All they are doing is wasting everyone's time and money.

Let me start out by telling you that Hoffman, age 35, is no RoboCop. He's a knucklehead. He's a problem drinker who, like many drunks I know, picks fights when he drinks. It's usually with other cops or bouncers. 

That's not really a firin' offense. There is absolutely no evidence of character traits that would make me question his integrity. Nobody established that he ever exceeded his authority as a police officer, or was on the take, or lied about an investigation. The evidence did show that he is brutally honest, even when it means he could be hurting his career.

The DUI Incident

The incident that got Hoffman into this jam was an off-duty drunk driving accident on August 8, 2013, smack dab in the middle of Musikfest. Hoffman had gone to a "Godsmack" concert earlier that day, where he acknowledged he had a few beers. From there he went to the FOP, located next to Ripper's Pub.

Hoffman drank at the FOP and at Rippers with friends, mostly other police officers. At times there were 15 off-duty officers there, blowing off steam. One of them, Officer Bill Audello, was celebrating his birthday.

He told City Council that Hoffman at one point snuck up behind him and gave him a wedgie, after which he said they engaged in "horseplay" and fought in a "brotherly way." But when Audello, who is both a Marine and martial arts expert, took Hoffman down, he said Hoffman became agitated because he was embarrassed. The place was loaded with cops and they just separated the two.

Audello could not be sure whether Hoffman was drunk. "To be honest, I was under the influence of alcohol myself," he admitted. Hopefully, he won't be fired for admitting he had a few on his birthday.

Another officer who was at the FOP that evening was Hoffman's closest friend on the force, Jon Desiderio. He corroborated Audello, adding that he walked Hoffman to his car. He saw no evidence of impairment. Hoffman did not slur words or sway. And when he got into his car, he did a permitted U-turn so that he'd be headed in the right direction to go home.

Karen Dolan attempted to attack Desiderio, suggesting he was drunk, too. "Is it possible you don't remember how much you drank because you drank so much?"

I think she must have forgotten who was on trial. Maybe she was drinking herself.

After Dolan's cross-examination, an internal affairs investigator testified that he spoke to seven police officers who were at the FOP that evening, and none of them believed that Hoffman was intoxicated.

Shortly after he left and was headed home on East Broad, Hoffman got a text message from a dispatcher who was with the FOP group. "Are you OK?' she asked. Hoffman looked at that text, and while doing so, thought he saw someone in the road in front of him. He swerved and rammed two parked cars.

Officer Michelle Dologite, who was on patrol, was waiting to enter Broad Street as Hoffman drove by. She said his speed was "a little bit higher than you'd expect to see," but could not say whether he was exceeding the 35 mph speed limit. She went to him to make sure he was OK from where he was trapped inside his vehicle. She noticed he did not slur his words, and told Council it would be improper to administer a breathalyzer because of a possible head injury.

At the hospital, Hoffman consented to a blood test, which eventually came back at 0.16 BAC, twice the legal limit. Sergeant Ronald Burzynski, who ultimately filed DUI charges against Hoffman, noted that his eyes were bloodshot and glazed. But he added that Hoffman remained well-spoken.

Hoffman, who accepted complete responsibility for the accident and said he was at a "low point" in his life, was ultimately placed on ARD, a special program for first offenders. Charges are dismissed and expunged after a successful probationary period.

Obviously, this is not enough to get anyone fired. So testimony was presented of aggravating factors that would warrant termination. I don't think it's enough.

Philly Fracas

Craig Finnerty, who was Chief at the time of this DUI, was "shocked" to open Hoffman's personnel file to see a record of a 2005 incident at a bar in Philadelphia, which Hoffman was visiting with a wedding party. He got involved in an argument and shoving match with a Philadelphia police officer, during which Hoffman threatened to come back with 20 guys to get this Philly cop.

Philadelphia police locked him up and called Bethlehem, where a Lieutenant had to come down and pick Hoffman up. Hoffman apologized, explaining that what he did was "very serious," that he has a problem when he drinks too much and had been drinking the hard stuff that day. He was formally reprimanded and told that a repetition of this conduct would result in termination. He said he would seek help for drinking, and agreed to apologize in writing to the Philly police officer.

This incident, boys and girls, occurred nine years ago.

Revel Casino

In July 2013, one month before the DUI, Hoffman was with a group of Bethlehem police officers who were kicked out of a Revel's Casino restaurant for being too boisterous. Audello, who was also with that group, said the restaurant even packed their food for them and there was no issue after they were asked to leave.

This matter was investigated. There was no incident report at the casino, and the officers on duty at the casino that day say the Bethlehem group was a little too loud for a little too long.

The Bouncer

This is a weird one. Chaz Patrick, the owner of Molly's Grille on the Southside, complained to the City after a March 16 incident last year in which Hoffman was bounced from the bar. He tried talking to Hoffman outside, after bouncer Scott Hunsicker bragged about putting a hold on Hoffman and carting him off. According to Patrick, Hoffman threatened to cause him problems, and that made him concerned about his livelihood.

The bouncer said that twelve hours after this incident, Bethlehem police were on the scene for yet another fight at the bar. They told the bouncer that some of the moves he uses are inappropriate.

Patrick and Hunsicker also mentioned a subsequent visit from the fire department for being over capacity. But Hunsicker admitted that the fire official was jovial and told him, "It's all good."

Patrick also conceded that many of his customers are Bethlehem police officers.

The bouncer was basically bragging to Council that he managed to take down a police officer. I did not attach much weight to his testimony, or the inferences that he and the owner wanted everyone to draw. But Dolan, who attacked the testimony of police officers and accused one of being drunk, was quite complimentary to the bouncer.

"You should have gotten [sic] some kind of raise or bonus," she told him. "That was quite heroic."

Naughty Words

Hoffman was also nailed for improper use of the MDT on April 11, 2013. This is a mobile data terminal, which allows officers to text messages back and forth to dispatch and each other. As explained by Lt. Jeremy Alshouse, officers are expected to confine comments to official business. Profanity is obviously prohibited.  But Alshouse acknowledged it is sometimes used improperly, "even by myself back in the day."

Hoffman and a dispatcher essentially were clowning around with each other. He used some cure words, and occasionally disparaged the traffic department. He even said he was out of shape because he's been drinking too much.

Both Hoffman and the dispatcher were reprimanded.

Bad Search

In December 2010, Hoffman and a probationary officer arrested someone who was turned over to deputies for incarceration. Several days later, while in jail, corrections officers noticed that this inmate had a gun which was missed during the search.

Hoffman thought the probationary officer had conducted the search and the probationary officer thought Hoffman had done it.

They both were suspended for ten days.

Alcohol Dissipation

Chief Mark DiLuzio is a cop, not a chemist. yet was allowed to testify that the rate of alcohol dissipation is 0.015 per hour. This means that Hoffman would have reported to work drink that day. This rate is based on a 140 lb man, and DiLuzio himself acknowledged that the rate differs, based on numerous factors, including an individual's metabolism. So basically, DiLuzio testified that he had no idea whether Hoffman would be drunk or sober, assuming that he would come to work that day.

Cops Have to Be Better

The basic argument for terminating Hoffman is that officers have to be better than the rest of us because they are a very visible symbol of our government. I agree completely when it comes to matters of integrity and honesty or official oppression. But the evidence I see convinces me that Hoffman, like all of us, is a knucklehead with a drinking problem. He needs some time off, and should not be permitted to work until he has control over his drinking.

FOP President Wade Haupert reminded Council, "This is a human being. No one in this room is without flaws.” In fact, if Hoffman can overcome his drinking demons, he probably would be one of the department's finest officers.

If you want perfection, watch RoboCop.


Anonymous said...

A few things of note.

Sorry Bernie but this guy has a history of reprimands for behavior and inappropriate use of city equipment. He should be fired for his continuing recurrence of inappropriate behaviors. Yes, common folk do expect a lot from police officers because thy have a lot of power and responsibility. If any civilian had done even some of these things we would not be shown the "professional" courtesy this guy has ben shown over and over again. He should be fired and let the lawyers go at it.

Next, noticed that Spirk was not at his new post but his old lawyer crony Spangler was there. Why would Spangler go to a city council meeting Spirk should be at?

Finally, I hope you were not drinking. You could choke a horse on all the typos in this posting.

Bernie O'Hare said...

1) There was absolutely no evidence presented of inappropriate use of city equipment. The evidence presented is what I reported. Maybe you should convene a new hearing to pour it on some more. You'll need it bc this is a weak case for termination.

2) Firing him is a waste of time and money bc the arbitration of this matter will get this guy his job back. The only thing coming close to a lack of integrity is Molly's and I did not find those witnesses to be credible. If the city is really interested in saving money and doing the right thing,it will work out a suspension with all kinds of conditions. But politically, that won't fly.

3) Spirk could not attend this meeting because he was Solicitor for the City and has a conflict. It is Dan Spengler, not Spangler.

4) I'd rather be a drunk than a coward who does not sign his or her name.

Anonymous said...

Cops take care of cops. Even with that special treatment this guy can't stay out of trouble. This guy should have been dumped on one of the many times he has been reprimanded for his behavior.

You now hate city council so you would defend the devil himself against them.

The guy is not responsible enough to be a police officer.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I certainly don't hate City Council, but they are politicians who subordinate doing the right thing to what they think will get them elected. This cop is a knucklehead. You don't fire someone simply because he is a knucklehead. If they do, he is going to get his job back in arbitration. So it's a waste of time and resources in a City whose Council does not want to hire people to deliver services.

Anonymous said...

I am very confused.... the old phrase goes somewhat like this "those who live in glass houses should not throw stones." Am I wrong? The reason I ask is that you yourself are an alcoholic. But in this story you insist on throwing stones inside your own house. Don't get me wrong for one second alcoholism is a disease that not preventable but treatable. However I believe that it is very wrong for someone like yourself who suffers from the same disease to make a mockery of another who obviously is in the same boat as you. Once and alcoholic always an alcoholic, right Bernie? The guy made huge mistakes because of his alcoholism and should suffer the consequence, but you are far from the last person to criticism him and honestly call him out. I hope you see your errors and embrace this man as someone who suffers from the same ailment that you do rather than lambaste him for his mistakes. We all have made mistakes, right Bernie?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I did not lambaste this man. i defended him. He should not be fired. I don't know how I could have been more clear. Is he a knucklehead? yes. Are we all knuckleheads? Yes. My point is he is human, and unless his transgressions reflect on his integrity, he should not be fired. He should be suspended.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious he is too immature to be allowed the serious responsibility of a police officer. Maybe when he grows up but right now he is too irresponsible and with a poor employment record of reprimand sand disciplines. He should not be allowed at this time to to wear a badge and carry a gun.

Anonymous said...

You can spin this any way you want and try to make him out to be the victim, but the fact is, he is a cop and he shouldn't be.

Bill said...

"My point is he is human, and unless his transgressions reflect on his integrity, he should not be fired. He should be suspended."

I agree.

Addiction is a disease yet we treat it like a moral condition. What tends to happen in these sort of circumstances is everyone overlooks the behavior until the disease progresses to the point where they are then vilified.

I have never met this man nor followed this story, but wonder what may have been had he got help. For addiction, recovery rates are as high as 90% when services are done right, such as in physician and pilot programs that combine intense services with long term regular follow up.

The sad irony here is that police officers are more likely to end up with alcoholism because of the kind of stressors they experience. PTSD has a close association with addiction. Those who have served us in the military suffer similar dynamics and are also vilified when they end up with additions (at higher rates than others).

He may be a really good guy "underneath" his problem. Many of us (I am in continuous recovery for 27 years) have markedly different personalities when we are sober and clean. We may also never find out what kind of a person he is as although most people acknowledge that alcoholism and addiction are diseases, we continue to treat it and those that suffer from it from a moral stance.

This thread is a good example of that. Bernie is open about his history and it keeps getting thrown in his face by the moralizers, even though I believe him to be sober for many years now. My thoughts are with this man and his family, and I hope he gets help and has a chance to rebuild his life. If he was offered real treatment and the chance to keep his job, it may just save his life.

Anonymous said...

Hokie Joe Says....
I think you are right that this man will probably not be fired once his case is heard in arbitration. The reason why??????? Quite simple. The City knows of this mans problems. Did they make his re-employment or re-instatement contingent on him going to a rehabilatation program for alcoholics? Federal laws mandate you help this individual. Like it or not, Alcoholism is a disease, and yes, it is now proven to be hereditary. Hoffman is more than a knucklehead. He is a drunk who needs help. He becomes a real jerk when drinking but that is the "M O" for most drunks. Because he is a police officer his case is highly visible. It doesn't change the fact that he is still a problem drinker who can't deal with his drinking problem without help. The City must provide that help. That too is the law.

Anonymous said...

Keeping aside his addiction to alcohol, which I hope he seeks treatment, this police officer violated the law. Let me repeat, he violated the law.

When someone puts a badge on his uniform, there is an expectation from the public of upholding the law. If the police officer applies for ARD, which he should if he's honest, then and only then could he keep his job. If he does not, then he should be fired. He violated the law. That's not being a knucklehead. That's being convicted of an offense.

Anonymous said...

It seems pretty straightforward to me. This guy should be fired.

Police officers are paid to uphold the law and protect the public. This guy seems to be really bad at doing both of those things given the track record he has.

Police officers are held to a different standard. They are counted on to defuse hostile situations every day. They carry weapons. They drive fast in responding to incidents. You want an officer that has good, solid judgement that is routinely displayed and can be counted on.

I'm all about second chances but for this guy, it appears he's on his 8th chance. He has very poor judgement.

He'll hurt somebody besides himself sooner rather than later.

Peter J.Cochran said...

Bernie ,has this man had combat related service time?

FAH KIN AH SUM said...

your head is up and locked on this one bernie

Anonymous said...


Although I agree about the knucklehead description, and I feel for him if he suffers from alcoholism, I believe that the City will try to err on the side of caution with him, here's why- Fast forward to a day (hope it does not come) where he drives drunk and causes a fatal accident. Would the City not be exposed to massive liability should his record come to light? In other words, as long as he is affiliated with the City, any similar type accident would cause the victim to say- "you knew about this guy and did nothing."

At very least, following a suspebsion, he needs to go get professional help.


Anonymous said...

His judgement is (was) impaired for say, 10 years under the influence of alcohol, he's damaged goods in the courtroom and a liability to the City of Bethlehem.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" he's damaged goods in the courtroom and a liability to the City of Bethlehem."

Nothing about last night or his DUI damages him in a courtroom. It would be irrelevant and can'r be admitted into evidence.

As far being a liability, taking disciplinary action is appropriate. Making abstinence a condition of employment is appropriate. If the City did this, it acted reasonable and can't be held liable if he goes off the reservation again. Any police officer, under the right set of circumstances, can snap.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"It is obvious he is too immature to be allowed ..."

So says someone who lacks the maturity or even the basic decency or courage to sign his or her name while demanding someone's head.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"At very least, following a suspension, he needs to go get professional help."

I agree with this completely.

Bernie O'Hare said...

" this police officer violated the law. Let me repeat, he violated the law."

Yes, he did, and is in ARD as a result. If it were an offense that reflected on his integrity, I'd agree with seeing him fired. But this guy appears to have personal integrity. They couldn't touch him on that count.

They'll fire this guy bc they don't want to piss off judgmental people who pretend they're better than everyone, but this guy will get his job back in arbitration and should.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"If the police officer applies for ARD, which he should if he's honest, then and only then could he keep his job"

I believe i noted in my account that the officer did, in fact, apply for and was accepted into ARD.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Peter, I do not know whether officer Hoffman is a vet at all. In passing, someone mentioned there were 5 mitigating factors concerning this Officer. But nobody bothered to mention what they were last night bc they intend to string this guy up. The newspapers do not mention this either. I will attempt to discover the five mitigating factors bc the public should know them.

Don Moore said...

I see your point about whether or not he should be fired, but what is the justification for the following statement? "...he probably would be one of the department's finest officers."

Because if he prevails over his demons, he will be one of the only sober officers on the force? Something else?

c said...

Hope it works out for him, he's a decent human being.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Don, he will be one of the department's finest officered bc he will be one of those who made a mistake and learned from it. This will give him empathy when dealing with others who make mistakes. He will recognize that we are all human.

Anonymous said...

This Hoffman guy sounds like a real quality individual...

Anonymous said...

So this guy has documented behavioral and work issues dating back to 2005 and you're CHAMPIONING him?...good lord, Bernie...this is beyond the pale, even for you...has there ever been a more glaring example of a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off?

Anonymous said...

Don and Bernie are both "former" drunks so they cry for another drunk. They scream and holler. Yet like with a former state rep. How many times has this guy been flying in his car drunk and "not" caught. Just like the state rep in the world of alky's like Don
and Bernie, we must all wait until he kills someone due to impaired judgment and lack of self-control before his gun and badge are taken away.

No thank you, as a city resident. get him a job in Nazareth O'Hare.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, your compassion for this loser likely is the result of finding a brother who you think is beset with the same demons you fight. In your past history you paid the price for being a drunk ass. Hoffman also needs to be held accountable for being the same. He, most of all should not be driving drunk. That should be enough to fire him. Like someone else pointed out, if he remains on the force and causes harm on duty the first question to the city will be, "why wasn't he fired last time?"
You're cutting this guy a lot more slack than you would for say, Brown, if he got a DUI.

Anonymous said...

If the police officer fails to successfully complete the ARD program, then he should be prosecuted and fired from his position.

Anonymous said...

If this guy had worked for someone Bernie loves he would agree to cut him loose. Right now he has a bug up his ass over Bethlehem so he wants to fight them more than he wants to defend what he knows is a record of irresponsibility. Any regular citizen would have been charged with assaulting a police officer in his Philly incident but he was allowed to be driven home by a fellow cop. the guy is a loose canon carrying a gun. the city should fire him. Fortunately, we don't have you deciding what is a waste of money.

This guy is not a streets worker but an armed police officer. Yes there is a difference.

Like with the wife beating state rep. we need to wait until someone is hurt. Bernie defended him all the time and also mad excuses for his behavior. this guys employment jacket is laded with problems.

Why not let Jim Gregory be a cop again when he gets out of jail?

Bernie O'Hare said...

I supported the Mayor who proposed terminating Officer Hoffman, and I support the Mayor who succeeded him. I also have a high opinion of Bethlehem's last three chiefs. I happen to think Bethlehem is the crown jewel of the LV. And I completely disagree with the decision to terminate. Why? Because the discipline is too harsh. I will have more to say about this tomorrow, and you can make uninformed anonymous attacks then.

Anonymous said...

Yes, by all means let us use the Joe Brennan defense of "what a Hell of a guy", until someone is seriously hurt. This guy has more excuses than a Chinese phonebook has Chins.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The anonymous hate machine has started, making me realize that I am correct. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Right Bernie, at least the anon "hate machine" doesn't support wife beating and almost running over people in your car.

If you think defending that is being "right' you need more treatment.

Anonymous said...

This young man with a badge and a gun in the town where my children and my family lives. NO!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Anonymous hater, last time I checked, Officer Hoffman was not accused of beating his wife or nearly running others over. You tarnish him with the misconduct of others, mostly bc you hate me. Had I argued for his dismissal, you'd defend him, mostly bc you hate me. You are not motivated by facts, of which you are ignorant, but by hate.

Anonymous said...


Would you have changed your mind, if in the DUI, there was a motor vehicle accident with injuries?

Just asking.

Bernie O'Hare said...

But there wasn't. You have tagged this guy for things others did and now are adding "what if". on the record, he wins. Now go troll somewhere else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bernie,

Thank you for writing this. Please continue to follow this story. Don't let this hearsay nonsense be this officer's legacy. He deserves better after serving this city for 10 years. No one wants to acknowledge the good work he has done because it's easy to kick someone when they're down. This is a human being and I too am very unimpressed by City Council's conduct on Monday evening, especially Dolan! You want cops to be respected individuals than treat them like such or at least treat the idiot bouncer who can't even articulate a complete sentence the same.