Shawn Hoffert, an elected constable in Bethlehem's 13th ward, had also been a corrections officer at Northampton County jail for the past 23 years. But he was fired by Northampton County after an October 17, 2014 fracas with his wife. This has been a pattern. In 2004, he was issued a harassment citation after he allegedly slapped his wife. Assault charges were filed against him in 2006, although it appears that he they were reduced to harassment or dismissed altogether.
In the 2014incident, Bethlehem police responded when Hoffert's wife called 911 and reported that her husband was drunk, had choked her, hit her repeatedly and then threatened to kill her. They observed that she was bleeding from her temple, and she was transported to Muhlenberg Hospital. She later obtained an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order. In her Petition, she made this statement:
I was sent to the hospital after several open hand hits by Shawn Hoffert on my face. He continued. He slapped my face back and forth from one side to another. He punched me in the eye, causing several stitches, swelling, neck pain, etc. With his two hands he put them around my neck and was choking me. He was banging my head on the floor. He did this 2-3 times. I was gasping for air. While he was doing this, he either said "I'll kill you" or "I can kill you."Then, as so often happens in domestic violence cases, she failed to appear for her final hearing and the case was dismissed.
When Bethlehem police arrested Hoffert, they administered a breath test. He registered a 0.157, about twice the legal limit. He admitted drinking, said his wife started the fight and he may have pushed her once to get away. He also claimed she "had a way of producing her own injuries."
Hoffert was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault, simple assault/physical menace and harassment. He ultimately pleaded to four summary charges of harassment and was placed on probation for 360 days.
At his arbitration hearing, he denied abusing his wife and described himself as a pillar of the community. A union VP testified that Hoffert was told by former Corrections Director Arnie Matos that he'd get his job back if the criminal charges "went away." But Director Dan Keen, who succeeded Matos, had a different view and fired Hoffert.
In his Opinion, Arbitrator Thomas G. McConnell concluded that Hoffert did engage in acts of domestic violence, but determined there was insufficient evidence to establish physical violence or a death threat. He noted her absence, although that is common in instances of domestic violence. He ordered Hoffert reinstated without back pay.
Though it was an uphill battle, the County appealed the Arbitrator's ruling. Labor lawyer Dave Steckel argued that "it is inconceivable and morally reprehensible that a person who displayed (on multiple occasions) such little regard for the safety and well being of a female should be placed back in charge of an inmate population." He added that reinstatement "presents a substantial risk of harm to the inmate population, particularly the female inmate population, as well as to the female Corrections Officers and other female staff, due to Mr. Hoffert's troubling history of committing physical violence against women, and further it unnecessarily exposes the County to significant potential liability in the event Mr. Hoffert once again exhibits physically abusive behavior towards women."
Domestic violence is an epidemic affecting one out of every four women. The overwhelming majority of female prisoners - 82% - sufffered serious sexual or physical abuse as children. There is a compelling public interest, obviously, in preventing those who prey on women, either physically or sexually, from ever becoming or remaining a corrections officer.
Judge Emil Giordano, disturbed by these allegations, initially remanded the matter back to the Arbitrator, who stuck by his initial decision.
And Judge Giordano was stuck with a lousy record. "[T]he record itself essentially limits this Court in its ability to make a factual finding that Mr. Hoffert would be a danger in the workplace," he writes. All that the County could prove was that there was an altercation that resulted in a guilty plea to four summary offenses. Mrs. Hoffert never testified, nor did any police officers. "[M]ost of what the County presented was hearsay or double hearsay without any evidentiary exception."
Judge Giordano also noted that Hoffert had been suspended without pay for eight months. But he struggled in reaching this conclusion, and for good reason. As he himself eloquently observes,
This Court cannot stress enough how seriously we take all allegations of domestic violence, particularly due to our unique ability to sentence abusers and protect victims of this abhorrent crime. Despite this Court's feelings on the subject, however, it is the law that we must follow ... .The County should be credited for fighting this losing battle. It failed to produce the one thing Judge Girodano needed - evidence.