Judge throws out suit against Bensalem officials

Posted: June 07, 2014

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by a former Bensalem fire chief who claimed township officials, including Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo and Public Safety Director Fred Harran, conspired to force him from his job by filing false criminal charges against his son.

In an order filed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael M. Baylson ruled that evidence was insufficient to support the claims made by David Jerri Sr., former chief of the Union Fire Company.

Jerri had contended that the officials sought retribution because he was an outspoken critic of the township administration. He resigned in the summer of 2012 as his son, David Jr., was awaiting trial on insurance-fraud charges brought by Bensalem police. His son was acquitted of all charges.

Baylson, however, ruled that probable cause had been established to support the arrest of Jerri's son and noted that the Bucks County District Attorney's Office had pressed forward with the charges.

Thus, he said, there was no evidence of "malicious prosecution" by the Bensalem officials, also including Deputy Public Safety Director Patrick Ponticelli and Detective John Monaghan.

The judge announced his decision during a pretrial hearing Wednesday.

Neil A. Morris, who represented the officials, said that "from the outset, there was no basis for this action," and that he was pleased that Baylson "concluded what we've been saying all along."

"We had done nothing wrong," said Harran, "and it was just a ridiculously filed lawsuit."

Reached by telephone, David Jerri Sr. said that he was disappointed but had not yet talked to his attorneys, Brian K. Wiley and Christopher Garrell, about any next steps. The attorneys could not be reached.

"It just seems like there's no justice," Jerri said.

The Jerris filed suit last year, seeking damages and their jobs back.

The fire chief had regularly locked horns with township officials during his time at the fire company, speaking against them at meetings and to reporters.

In 2011 and 2012, according to the lawsuit, Harran temporarily shut down the fire company.

Also in 2012, Harran and the elder Jerri allegedly had a heated exchange after the fire company obtained a $1 million boat to patrol the Delaware River. Harran called the company "nuts" and asked the FBI to investigate the purchase. In an interview at the time, David Jerri Sr. described Harran as a bully.

The younger Jerri's acquittal, however, was what the father and son argued was the officials' ultimate maneuver to remove the chief from his post.

Baylson's ruling dismissed that notion and ended the case less than two weeks before it was scheduled to go to trial.


cpalmer@phillynews.com

609-217-8305 @cs_palmer

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