Office of Open Records grants appeal [regarding: Police chief patronizing prostitutes, tampering with and fabricating evidence, obstruction of administration of the law or other governmental functions and official oppression.] By MONICA PRYTS Allied News Staff Writer Feb 11, 2017 The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records has ordered that Stoneboro officials release documents related to the borough’s former police chief. The borough has until March 4 to respond, according to the final determination issued Feb. 2 by Benjamin A. Lorah, appeals officer. The determination is in response to an appeal that Allied News filed Jan. 3 with the Office of Open Records seeking additional information from the borough about Tyler Valimont. The appeal was granted after OOR determined that the borough did not provide “any factual or legal support for denying access to responsive records.” The Right to Know Law places the burden of proof on the borough to demonstrate that a record is exempt from disclosure.
“Based on the borough’s failure to cite any exemption for withholding responsive records or provide any evidence that all responsive records were provided, the borough did not meet its burden of proof under the RTKL,” according to the final determination.
Allied News on Dec. 22 filed a Right to Know request with Stoneboro for documents on Valimont’s Aug. 2 firing, and Oct. 4 rehiring, resignation and settlement agreement with the borough. Laurie McLallen, the borough’s secretary, treasurer and Right to Know officer, provided a copy of the settlement agreement on Dec. 30. When asked about the other documents, she said that the borough’s solicitor, Douglas and Joseph, advised her to release only the settlement agreement.She directed Allied News to council meeting minutes posted on the borough’s website, but those provided no further details on Valimont’s termination, rehiring and resignation – other than the unanimous votes to approve those motions.
Stoneboro Mayor William Everall has said that Valimont was fired because he wasn’t a “good fit” for the borough.
Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, has said that termination and resignation letters are public records under the Right to Know Law, but the reasons for termination or disciplinary actions can be redacted.
McLallen on Jan. 30 emailed a copy of Valimont’s resignation letter to Allied News. The one-sentence letter is dated Oct. 4 and is signed by Valimont, who addressed council and said he was writing to “respectfully resign” as police chief effective upon the adjournment of that evening’s council meeting.
The OOR acknowledges that records that do not exist cannot be produced, so they are not ordering the creation of records. If the borough provides a “sufficient evidentiary basis” that the records do not exist, the OOR will order disclosure. Either party – Allied News or Stoneboro – may appeal or petition for review to the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas during the 30-day response period.
Valimont, who was named police chief on Aug. 13. 2015, had also worked part-time for the Farrell police department. He was fired by the city on Dec. 16 – about 13 months after he was hired – for “conduct unbecoming of a Farrell police officer,” said City Manager Mike Ceci.That was followed by a state police investigation, which revealed that Valimont allegedly patronized a prostitute and tried to cover it up with a fake police report, according to The Herald. Valimont, 34, of 402 Indiana Ave., Farrell, was charged Jan. 19 with patronizing prostitutes, tampering with and fabricating evidence, obstruction of administration of the law or other governmental functions and official oppression.
The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case, which alleges:
• That Valimont met a 27-year-old woman behind a closed professional office during his overnight shift Nov. 7 into Nov. 8 when he was in full uniform and driving a marked Farrell cruiser.
• The meeting was cut short when another officer on routine patrol drove by. The woman claims that Valimont told her he had a year and a day to arrest her, and she better respond to his calls and text messages.
• Police obtained text messages exchanged between the two during Valimont’s overnight shift, and they were personal and sexual in nature. The woman said she responded because she was afraid Valimont would arrest her, and that he told her to delete the messages.
• When Valimont was asked to write up a report, he noted that he had been trying to obtain a confidential informant, but his report contained false information about his meeting with the woman, according to the state police investigation. The woman also said the Valimont paid her $8 for sex in September; state police found text messages that backed up her claim.
During Valimont’s time with Stoneboro, he solicited donations to train his dog, a German shepherd named Nakuma, as a police K-9. Borough officials had said they couldn’t afford the $2,500 to $3,000 needed for the dog’s training, but they would “hire” Nakuma after he was trained. Valimont collected donations via GoFundMe, raising $2,325 of his $3,000 goal in a few days, according to an article published by The Herald in July. The link for that account no longer works.
Allied News on Monday submitted a media inquiry to GoFundMe to determine what become of that fundraiser.
Also, there is a petition on change.org that appears to be inactive; it asks for support for a German shepherd named Sig to be trained by Valimont as a police K-9; it notes that Nakuma did not “make the cut” during training.