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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Controversial Cop Out at Fountain Hill

A Fountain Hill police officer fired for roughing up a suspect and then lying about it, but who was later reinstated after binding arbitration, is finally gone for good. Grady Cunningham, Jr., a police officer with a "Fighting Solves Everything" tattoo emblazoned on his forearm, resigned from the force on May 23. But it will cost the Borough. In an agreement approved by a vote of 4-2 during a short but heated special meeting, Fountain Hill Borough Council will pay Cunningham $35,000 and provide a neutral recommendation to any prospective employer.

Cunningham, a Fountain Hill police officer since 2010, was fired in February 2013 after being deceptive about a police surveillance tape that showed him approach a handcuffed and shoeless Richard McLaughlin from behind, place him in a choke hold, spin him around and then throw him head first to a hard floor. He also appears to be taunting McLaughlin, though there is no audio.

At the time, McLaughlin was being processed for public drunkenness, harassment and disorderly conduct. He later entered a guilty plea to those charges and spent a few days in jail. But McLaughlin sued both Cunningham and Fountain Hill over the incident, alleging that the police brutality is a violation of his civil rights. Represented by South Whitehall Township Attorney Richard Orloski, McLaughlin recently settled his claim for $95,000, according to borough officials.

It was not the first time Cunningham roughed someone up.

Cunningham's checkered past

As a bouncer at Jelly Beans Southside Jam in Allentown, Cunningham was ordered to pay more than $1 million after severely beating a bar patron who was annoying others with talk of religion and his missionary work.

In Northampton County, magistrate dockets reveal that, in 1993, harassment and terroristic threats against Cunningham were sent on to County Court. Also in 1993, bad checks, forgery, receiving stolen property and unlawful use of computer charges were sent to court. What happened at the County level is unknown. There is no record. It could be that he was admitted into ARD, a special program for first offenders, after which the charges are dismissed and sometimes expunged.

He still owes Northampton County $354.50 in costs for an old (1991) disorderly conduct conviction. The matter was referred to a collection agency..

In Lehigh County, Cunningham was charged with terroristic threats, harassment, disorderly conduct in 2003. Charges were downgraded to two counts of harassment and he was placed on six months probation and fined $600. He was later brought back to court on contempt charges for ignoring his costs.

Cunningham also has a history of domestic violence. In Lehigh County, Protection From Abuse Act (PFA) contempt charges were filed against Cunningham in 2003. That same year, a PFA was sought and obtained against him in Northampton County. Those PFA charges were eventually dropped by his battered girlfriend after a custody order was entered, assuring that his visitation with his son would be supervised.

Arbitration and Reinstatement

Despite this checkered past and unprofessional behavior as a police officer, Arbitrator Steven Wolf concluded last August that Cunningham was entitled to "one final opportunity." He then gave Fountain Hill and the FOP the opportunity to pay his $12,600 bill for three days of testimony.

Though Cunningham was reinstated, he would never patrol again. Chief Ed Bachert kept him on desk duty. Then, because of "concerns" that needed investigation, Mayor Jose Rosado had Cunningham placed on paid administrative leave. Cunningham himself began making complaints against the Borough with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The impasse ended with the acceptance of Cunningham's resignation during a special meeting on May 23, along with a $35,000 payment and promise to provide neutral recommendations. Attempting to fire Cunningham again would have been financially irresponsible, according to Mayor Rosado. He explained that the process would take 6-8 months, and that the Borough would pay 2-3 times more in attorney fees than it agreed to pay Cunningham. "There's also no assurance that we would get the outcome that we did receive," he added.

The six Council members who voted (Carolee Gifford was delayed by a medical emergency at her hospital and missed the vote) all agreed that it was time to part ways with Cunningham. But it was still a fractious meeting, with Council President Larry Rapp and Helen Halleman trading barbs.  Rapp voted to approve the resignation settlement, and was joined by Norman E. Blatt, Fred Capuano, and Doug Trotter.

Halleman, joined by Philip Trable, voted to reject the deal. "No, no, no, absolutely not!" she voted. She was disgusted by any financial settlement. "Shame on the arbitrators and my colleagues for voting in favor of this, since [Cunningham] has been collecting full salary and health care benefits for several months."

"Listen up, you citizens of Fountain Hill," she said after the meeting. "These are taxpayer dollars. All gone to waste. When budget time comes, you will all be given a big shot with a tax increase because we are in a bigger than ever deficit. When you go to the polls, you know what you can do? Get on the ballot and help the Borough survive."

Rosado stated that the police force is now down to four full-time officers, plus the Chief.


Anonymous said...

He should not be allowed to possess a gun period.

Bad bad cop!

MZUNGA said...

hear brown is looking for a new top cop

Anonymous said...

6:31 Obviuosly You have no law enforcement background...walk a mile in My shoes;......know what You are talking about first then post and be a man at least and don't post as annon.....


Anonymous said...

So #181, you would go side to side with this out of control, documented bad bad cop?
Guys like this put your life at risk in your shoes!
You don't need him around the force to make guys like you look bad!

Anonymous said...

"...and a neutral recommendation" ?!?! Great, somebody in another municipality will get abused after this loser gets a new job.

Reminds me of last week's story about a pitbull in Bethlehem; "the owners of the dog have decided to put it up for adoption."

Kevin Cerino said...

All of this could have been avoided if the borough had done its due diligence by investigating this guy's background prior to hiring him.

The good news is that he has a rather uncommon name, so that a simple Google search will certainly help any potential employer easily make an informed decision.

Bernie O'Hare said...

181, I post with my name. He is a bad cop who should never be employed in that capacity.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Kevin, someone was obviously asleep at the switch when he was hired in 2010.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Fountain hill all my 39 Year's. & I had Dealing's with Grady during a few Neighbor spat's & I can tell everyone GRADY is a F+++ing A++ Hole... He threatened to arrest me a few time's in the dispute with my neighbor refused to listen to my side of the story & handed me a disorderly conduct fine. Never hear my side of the story & My neighbor cause the problem in the 1st place.. It's OK though I got it dismissed in court... I am glad the GUY is GONE.. NO one on my block LIKED GRADY anyways..

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why they have to pay this guy to go away. He's been under investigation many times. He doesn't deserve a job in law enforcement and he's certainly not a victim.

Anonymous said...

@ 8:45 because of the color of his skin!

Bernie O'Hare said...

He did file EEOC complaints,so your statement is not the result of prejudice.