Embattled police chief resigns

First Posted: 11/11/2014

John Saranchuk stepped down as Jackson Township police chief on Monday as a war of words over the district attorney’s concerns about his performance was stepping up.

Four police officers from Dupont, where Saranchuk also used to work, allege that Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis is helping borough officials with “illegal union-busting attempts.”

Salavantis vehemently denied that accusation, saying her office is prepared to defend its actions in the matter after informing officials in both communities last month that Saranchuk was under investigation by her office for a “systemic abuse of authority,” and that her office will no longer recognize the authority of Saranchuk to make arrests.

“In addition to very public attempts to demonize John Saranchuk with false charges and outrageous claims, Dupont Borough has taken illegal and intentional actions against other Dupont policemen, including J.R. Maciolek, Jason Kwiatkowski and Charles Yarick, in an attempt at union busting to circumvent the contract that Dupont Borough signed with the Dupont Borough Police Association,” attorney Andrew J. Katsock III said in a news release on Monday.

Katsock said the officers are the victims of “illegal union busting attempts” by the borough with “the active assistance of the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office.”

Katsock, in the release, referred to Saranchuk as Dupont Borough police chief, although previous reports and statements from borough officials refer to him as the former officer in charge for the borough. He has been off the roster there for nearly three months.

Saranchuk also served as police chief in Jackson Township since January, but township Supervisor Al Fox said Saranchuk resigned effective Monday. Former Kingston Township Police Chief James Balavage was appointed police chief at an emergency meeting on Monday and is expected to be confirmed at a 7 p.m. supervisors meeting Nov. 17.

Abuse of authority

Salavantis in her letters cited a range of examples in which her office believes Saranchuk did not act properly in both communities, from issuing unlawful traffic citations to failing to investigate a stabbing, a DUI and other cases, and repeatedly failing to return calls from assistant district attorneys for weeks.

The Times Leader on Nov. 3 obtained a copy of the nine-page letter and memorandum from Salavantis to Dupont officials. That night, Salavantis confirmed the letter’s authenticity, and also that Jackson Township had been notified, but she had declined further comment.

Katsock on Monday declined to respond to each allegation in Salavantis’s letter, saying it would be “inappropriate at this time. I want to have his accusers present so I can cross-examine them,” he said.

He said all of the details and involvement of Salavantis’s Office in the matter are not yet known, but it is “particularly troubling.” He said that rather than “seeking public favor from the Dupont Borough politicians and doing their bidding, the District Attorney should be looking into ways of continuing to build public safety in Dupont Borough, not dismantling it.”

Salavantis responds

In response to Katsock’s news release, Salavantis issued one of her own. She said the actions of her office with respect to Saranchuk are based on the DA’s office’s experiences with him and the office’s investigations into matters detailed in the letters she sent to Dupont and Jackson Township officials.

“As District Attorney, I took an oath to uphold the laws of Pennsylvania and to protect the public. It is as much my duty to protect the public from the actions and inactions of Mr. Saranchuk as it is to prosecute crime,” Salavantis said.

For Katsock to suggest she should “sit idly by while citizens’ rights are violated by his client or while his client repeatedly fails to ethically perform his duties makes it apparent that he has not done the slightest investigation into the facts we set forth,” Salavantis said.

‘Union-busting’ details

Katsock alleged that the Dupont mayor, council members and acting police chief have made anti-union statements and committed numerous acts that show a preference for non-union employees, such as blatantly making distinctions between union and non-union employees when assigning overtime or desirable work and, “by the nature of work assignments, created conditions intended to get rid of the four unionized police employees.”

He wrote that borough officials possibly violated state law and his clients’ First Amendment rights to freedom of association.

Katsock called the allegations against Saranchuk and Maciolek “lies, distortions and false attacks designed to manipulate public opinion” because “the only way to bust a union is to lie, distort, manipulate, threaten, and make false attacks on union leaders.”

In his news release, Katsock said his clients have evidence that will prove that police union members were discharged, disciplined, had their hours cut and given to non-union part-time employees, in retaliation for union activity.

Where things stand

Reached Monday afternoon at his office, Katsock said Dupont officials terminated Saranchuk’s employment some time ago, and added that he believes the DA’s office pressured Jackson Township officials to request Saranchuk’s resignation.

Fox declined to respond to Katsock’s remarks, but he said township supervisors and Saranchuk “came to a mutual understanding due to the fact that he would not be able to continue (having his cases prosecuted) and they told him that “in the best interest, he may want to resign.”

He said township officials received no other complaints about Saranchuk other than Salavantis’s, and that Saranchuk had “a very good working relationship with the supervisors.”

Katsock said he represented J.R. Maciolek at a hearing before Dupont officials on Friday, and that it appears they intend to fire him. He said Saranchuk was given no hearing.

Katsock said his clients’ options include filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board and/or filing a lawsuit, neither of which he has been authorized to do.

If such action is taken, Salavantis indicated she’s ready to respond.

“Should Mr. Saranchuk’s counsel decide to proceed with action rather than making allegations by way of a press release, our office is fully prepared to support and defend every action taken in this matter,” Salavantis said.

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