Suit claims official fired detective who supported opponent
The former county detective claims he was on a 'hit list' for firing.
By LAURE CIOFFI
VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- A former Lawrence County detective claims in a federal lawsuit that he was fired by District Attorney John Bongivengo because he supported Bongivengo's opponent in the last election.
Richard Presnar of Shenango Township filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh this week naming Bongivengo and the county as defendants. He is requesting in excess of 75,000.
Presnar claims his rights of freedom of expression and association under the First Amendment were violated.
The lawsuit contends that Bongivengo prepared a "hit list" of people who were working to support his opponent, Republican George Freed, in the 2005 election. Part of the list included people who made campaign contributions to Freed, including Presnar, court papers state.
Presnar, who worked as a county detective for 71/2 years, was fired the day Bongivengo took office, the lawsuit says.
It contends Bongivengo fired Presnar before even going into his own office for the first time after being sworn in.
Bongivengo said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit.
The district attorney said when he took office in January 2006 he let go Presnar and a secretary working in the office. Both had worked under the previous district attorney, Matthew Mangino, who did not seek re-election.
Bongivengo said he reorganized the office and created a case-manager position that he felt was needed more than a second detective and secretary.
Bongivengo said he retained Wayne Disque as a county detective, noting that Disque had been on the job longer than Presnar.
Court papers say the county was named in the lawsuit because it had deliberate indifference to Presnar's rights and had policies, regulations and customs that permitted termination of employees because of political expression when there was no just cause for termination.
Presnar is a retired New Castle police detective and is now working in school security, said Daniel Herman, his attorney.
"The reason he was terminated had nothing to do with merit. We feel this is the United States of America, and people should be given the right of free speech," Herman said.