Saturday, February 18, 2017

Former Lower Southampton official's criminal background check sought in 19-year-old civil suit

Posted Feb. 15, 2017
Robert Hoopes
A Bucks County judge has been asked to decide if Lower Southampton must produce employment records involving terminated public safety director Robert P. Hoopes for a 19-year-old civil lawsuit over a disputed hunting trip.

Hoopes, 70, was one of three Lower Southampton officials who were indicted in December by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He was terminated from his township job in January.
An attorney representing a defendant in the unrelated civil suit said he has filed a petition seeking Hoopes' criminal background check because it will confirm whether or not he lied under oath during a deposition in the civil suit that Hoopes and nine others filed against Rudy Blair, of Newtown Township, who helped arrange an elk hunting trip in 1997. Tony Montoya, of New Mexico, and Montoya’s business, High Country Outfitters, also are defendants.
David Juall, the attorney representing Blair, argues the township documents are “relevant evidence” for the suit’s allegations of liability and damages because it affects Hoopes’ credibility, which is a big part of the lawsuit. He filed a petition Friday in Bucks County Court seeking to enforce a subpoena issued last year for the township records.
The 1998 lawsuit alleges the defendants failed to deliver on contractual promises involving the New Mexico trip and they caused Hoopes and another plaintiff to shoot and kill elks in a prohibited area, resulting in their arrest and prosecution, according to court documents.
In the 2014 deposition for the civil suit, Hoopes testified that he was arrested during the hunting trip, processed, fingerprinted and taken to jail in Chama, New Mexico. He said he posted $1,000 bond to be released, according to deposition excerpts.
Hoopes also testified that two days after his release, he appeared at a hearing. His deposition said the judge found him guilty, but he added that the paperwork stated it was a nolo contendere plea, according to court documents. A nolo contendere plea is not an admission of guilt, but it carries the same weight as a guilty plea at sentencing. This news organization has made a public records request to the New Mexico Fish and Game Commission to clarify the plea and details of the incident. 
Juall said he didn’t attempt to verify Hoopes’ arrest claims until after he learned that Lower Southampton hired Hoopes in February. As a candidate for the public safety director position, Hoopes submitted to an extensive criminal background check, which should have included the arrest Hoopes alleges occurred, according to the petition.
Rather than go through the time and expense of confirming the alleged arrest through New Mexico authorities, Juall said that he filed a subpoena for Hoopes’ FBI background check from the township.
A Lower Southampton's records custodian was ultimately subpoenaed to appear at a September deposition with the requested records, but no one showed up, according to the petition. Juall alleges that Lower Southampton Township Manager John McMenamin has produced only a one-page October 2015 letter from Hoopes indicating his interest in the public safety director position, according to the court filing.
A New Mexico Fish and Game Commission official said that its law enforcement division confirmed its citations and arrests would not show up on a criminal background check. It would, however, appear on the state’s online court website, and Hoopes' name did not appear on the website in a check by this news organization.
According to Juall, though, Hoopes testified during an arbitration hearing in the lawsuit last year that after he was hired as public safety director he had his New Mexico arrest expunged.
This news organization was unsuccessful in attempts to reach McMenamin, township solicitor Michael Savona or Bradford Lare, the attorney representing Hoopes and the other plaintiffs, for comment through voice messages and emails.
Lower Southampton supervisors Chairman Patrick Irving said he doesn't remember if he reviewed Hoopes’ criminal background check, but that he had no knowledge of an arrest in New Mexico.
Last year, a federal grand jury indicted Hoopes, who lives in Doylestown, along with Bucks County deputy constable Bernard Rafferty, 62, and Magisterial Judge John Waltman, 59, both of Lower Southampton. Rafferty and Waltman are both on suspension. Rafferty doesn't get paid unless he works, and Waltman's suspension is unpaid.
The men allegedly conspired to launder $400,000 they believed to be proceeds of health care fraud, drug trafficking and bank fraud, but which was actually money they were given as part of an undercover investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The nearly two-decades-old civil case has lingered despite long periods of inactivity because the plaintiff renewed the certification every two years allowing it to remain on the docket. The court rejected motions to dismiss the case because of its age, Juall said. Last year, the case went to arbitration and each plaintiff was to be awarded $3,500 from High Country Outfitters only, but Juall said they appealed the arbitration decision.
A trial in the civil case is scheduled to get underway March 6, he added.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Bucks DA: Mom accused of teen's killing illegally cashed government checks

Feb. 3, 2017
Sara Packer
The former Abington foster mom and child welfare worker accused of killing her daughter is now accused of collecting more than $4,000 in government payments after the 14-year-old girl was dead, according to new court documents filed in the homicide case.

Sara Packer, 42, of Richland and Horsham, allegedly continued to collect monthly government subsidies after the July rape and death by strangulation of Grace Packer. Authorities charged the mother and her boyfriend Jacob Sullivan, 44, of Horsham, with homicide, abuse of a corpse, kidnapping and criminal conspiracy. Sullivan is also charged with rape.   
Sara Packer after her arraignment
The Bucks County District Attorney alleges Sara Packer collected $4,433.08 between July and November, when the remains of her daughter were identified after they were discovered on Halloween. The money represents two checks Sara Packer received each month for Grace from the Social Security Administration and an adoption subsidy from Berks County, which handled the adoption of Grace and her younger brother.
The new charges Sara Packer faces are theft by failure to make the required disbursement of funds and tampering with public records, both felonies, and a misdemeanor charge of misapplying entrusted government property. She and Sullivan are incarcerated in Bucks County prison without bail. 
The defendants could face the death penalty. Sara Packer on Friday waived her right to a preliminary hearing on all the charges against her, according to her court-appointed attorney, Keith Williams. He declined further comment, but confirmed no deal was made in exchange for the waiver.
Sullivan is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 24 at the Bucks County Justice Center in Doylestown Borough.
Prosecutors allege Packer continued to cash her daughter’s monthly Social Security Disability benefit checks after she reported the girl missing to Abington police. Packer never reported that her daughter was missing to the Social Security Administration or Berks County, authorities said. 
Court documents state Sara Packer repeatedly lied on required Social Security Administration forms and a questionnaire after Grace’s death to make it appear the girl was alive. In a probable cause affidavit released Friday, Bucks County authorities allege Packer stated in a document filed in August that her daughter “still fails eye exams with glasses, needs constant supervision” and is “argumentative and sexually inappropriate, lies often, manipulative, steals.” 
Packer also said in another document filed with Social Security that, “Grace can have no unsupervised time. She is impulsive and makes dangerous decisions." And Bucks County investigators allege Sara Packer forged her daughter’s name on a Social Security Administration form more than a month after Grace was strangled to death.
Court documents allege Sara Packer failed to notify Berks County that Grace was dead and continued collecting a monthly subsidy that was part of the subsidized adoption agreement she signed in March 2007, when she finalized the adoption of Grace and her brother.
Prosecutors allege Sara Packer helped plan the killing and watched or assisted as Sullivan beat and raped the teen, bound and gagged her and left her to die in the sweltering attic of Packer's rented Richland home. When Sullivan and Packer returned hours later to find Grace still alive, Sullivan strangled the child until she was dead, according to a criminal complaint. The couple then covered Grace’s body with cat litter and mothballs and left her for three months inside a closet, investigators have said.
In October, Abington police who were following up on Sara Packer's July 11 report of her missing daughter visited the Richland home and asked about Grace's whereabouts. After that visit, prosecutors allege, the couple dismembered the girl's body and dumped it 100 miles away in Luzerne County. Hunters discovered the remains on Halloween. Investigators in November confirmed the remains as Grace Packer.
The killing has captured international attention not only for its brutality, but because Sara Packer is a former foster mother and a child welfare worker.
Between 2000 and 2010, Sara Packer and her then-husband, David Packer, were foster parents for 30 children, authorities said. Among those foster children were Grace and her brother, whom the couple began fostering in 2004 when Grace was 3.
In 2010, the state revoked their foster parenting privileges. That was the same year David Packer was charged with sexually assaulting Grace, then 9, and a foster child with mental challenges. David Packer was convicted of both crimes and served five years in prison before he was released in 2015. He's required to register as a sexually violent predator. The Packers divorced last year, records show.
A subsequent child welfare investigation found substantial evidence that Sara Packer committed child abuse “by omission” under the state’s civil Child Protective Services Law, meaning that she failed to stop the abuse or notice it happening. Williams said his client didn't know Grace was being sexually abused and didn’t know about David Packer’s sexual involvement with the foster child until she turned 18.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Police: Opioid reversal drug saves lives, but addiction crisis must be addressed

Posted Feb. 2, 2017
Falls Lt. Nelson Whitney 
She was almost dead, Nicholas Pinto said, when he found her.

When the 33-year-old Falls police officer arrived at a recent medical emergency call for an unresponsive 21-year-old woman in a hotel room, he found her pulse was weak and her breathing was shallow. Near her body, Pinto noticed a syringe and an empty plastic baggie, both common signs of heroin use. 
Pinto has been at similar scenes more than a dozen times in the last year. He was ready to respond, he said, every time.
He pulled out a plastic device, smaller than a cellphone, that has become as much a tool of his job as his handcuffs and gun. The device carries the lifesaving medication called naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioids on the brain and restores breathing immediately when injected or inhaled. 
Using Falls Township records clerk Colleen Rugg as a model, Falls Police Cpl. Nicholas Pinto shows how a naloxone injector could be used to reverse an opioid overdose. The EpiPen-like injector wasn't triggered in this demonstration.
Pinto injected the woman with two doses of the medication, then administered oxygen until the ambulance arrived. The paramedics administered more naloxone, disrupting the woman's opiate stupor. She lived.
Of the 87 drug overdoses Falls police handled in the last two years, slightly more than half the people survived after an officer administered naloxone, according to police officials. Pinto is responsible for one-third of those overdose reversals.
“It always feels good to save somebody," he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of circumstance it is.”
Falls was one of the biggest users of naloxone (brand name, Narcan) among Bucks County police departments, along with Bristol Township (113 opioid overdose reversals) and Bensalem (54 reversals) between 2015 and last year, according to county data. Combined, the three departments alone are responsible for nearly two-thirds of opioid reversals reported by Bucks County law enforcement since 2015.
But police in the larger communities aren't the only ones using the medication to reverse overdoses.
"There aren't many officers that haven't used it, so far," said George McClay, the police chief in Morrisville, among the smallest Bucks County communities with 16 police officers.
Departments using naloxone
Twenty-eight of the 36 Bucks County police agencies, including county park rangers, have reported their officers have used the free naloxone supplied to them by a coalition of government agencies and insurers over the last 21 months. Newtown Borough is the only police department that has refused the free medication. Police Chief Tony Wojciechowski has refused to publicly say why, though the borough council is considering a request for the District Attorney's Office to equip borough officers
In neighboring Montgomery County, officers in 35 of the 49 law enforcement agencies carry naloxone. A little more than half of overdose reversals by police are attributed to five departments there, including Abington, according to county data. Montgomery County started distributing the medication in March 2015, according to David Brown, deputy director of emergency management services. Over 22 months, police administered naloxone to 157 people and 142 survived, according to county data as of January.
In an effort to reduce Pennsylvania deaths from opiates, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and private health insurers two years ago to provide free naloxone to law enforcement officers. That program was launched after state lawmakers approved the medication's use by police and others with no formal medical training, and provided immunity from prosecution to those who administer it or seek help for someone who overdoses.
Packages contain Narcan, the brand name for the opioid overdose reversal drug naloxone. Police in Falls and most other Bucks County communities carry the medication and have reversed hundreds of overdoses since 2015.     
As of December, police in Pennsylvania had saved more than 2,100 lives using naloxone provided through the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association program. All police departments in 18 of the state’s 67 counties carry the drug, according to DDAP. The remaining counties had some police departments carrying it or plans were in the works to do so.
Bucks County had at least 191 opiate reversals, the third highest by Pennsylvania law enforcement, as of December, according to DDAP; Montgomery County ranked sixth, with at least 134 reversals.
Police officials who were interviewed for this article said they believe it makes sense to carry the drug, since saving lives is part of their job. Medical emergencies typically account for the largest volume of police calls and police frequently beat rescue squads to the scene, they said.
But others worry the wide availability of naloxone provides addicts with a false sense of security and discourages them from seeking treatment.
“We hear that from time to time, but if it affects someone they know, they have a very different perspective on it,” said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which reimburses law enforcement agencies for naloxone purchases.
Montgomery County's Brown described the police feedback as "overwhelmingly positive." 
"Literally (patients) are walking to the ambulance," he said. "It's remarkable."
Dealing with an epidemic 
Some officials expressed frustration that while naloxone is saving lives, much more needs to be done to reverse the growing opioid epidemic.
“Is it taxing the local resources? Absolutely,” Bristol Borough Police Chief Stephen Henry said. “It’s beyond frustrating because I don’t see anyone coming up with a game plan -- an addiction and law enforcement strategy.”
In both counties, police officials said they don't track how many times they revive the same person, but even departments where the drug is frequently used, the estimated number of repeat saves is under 10 people. 
Corpl. Nicholas Pinto, of the Falls Township Police Department, shows what opioid-reversal medication EVZIO, a naloxone HCl injection device, looks like, at the Falls Township Municipal Complex.
Hilltown Police Chief Christopher Engelhart estimated his officers have administered naloxone about eight times over the last two years. In the largely rural Upper Bucks community, police often arrive at the scene a few minutes before the ambulance, he said. While he agreed the drug is an important lifesaving tool, he said some officers have expressed mixed emotions about it.
“Some are not overly thrilled with it and some expect it to be part of the job,” Engelhart said. “We are concerned that part of this, unfortunately, seems to be a bit of a revolving door. It’s saving their lives in that particular instance, but it’s not long term.”
He had an officer administer naloxone twice to the same man, Engelhart said. Both times, he said, the man stood up, shook hands with the officer and thanked him -- then refused medical treatment from the rescue squad. The incident is why Engelhart believes the law needs to be updated to require that someone revived with naloxone in the field be medically cleared at a hospital.
Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said he is frustrated that there is not more being done to deal with the opioid epidemic. 
“I have a 233-percent increase (in overdose deaths) with Narcan on the street. I think that number would have been 533 percent without Narcan,” Harran said. “You can’t put a price on saving your loved ones, but we’re not hitting the problem at its core. We’re ignoring the problem. Narcan is a Band-Aid on a bleeding artery. Narcan is a great tool, but it’s one tool in a toolbox that is fairly empty.”
In an effort to add to their toolboxes, Bensalem and Falls police launched programs last year offering free, 24-hour assistance to anyone who wants to enter a substance abuse treatment program -- no questions asked.
Falls police Lt. Nelson Whitney talks about his department's use of naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses, which have increased substantially since 2015. 
To Falls Lt. Nelson Whitney, such an outreach program makes sense. Fatal overdoses in Falls nearly doubled, from 14 to 25, between 2015 and last year, he said, and the department averages six to eight overdose calls a month. The department is among the ones where officers carry both nasal and auto-injected naloxone.
Pennsylvania is among the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, particularly the southeastern region that includes Philadelphia and its suburbs, according to federal Drug Enforcement Agency data. More than 3,300 people in the state died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 23 percent increase over the prior year, according to DEA data. At least one opioid was present in toxicology results in about eight of every 10 of those deaths, according to the DEA.
Locally, coroners in Bucks and Montgomery counties each reported record-high numbers of accidental drug overdose deaths last year, mostly attributed to opioids.
Nearly half of the 254 Montgomery County coroner cases in the first six months of 2016 were drug overdoses, and opioids were present in 90 percent of those cases. In Bucks County, 140 of the 683 cases the coroner’s office handled through late December involved drug overdoses, with opioids present in at least 75 percent of cases. Toxicology is pending on another 30 cases.
Bucks County Coroner Dr. Joseph Campbell said black market fentanyl that is showing up in overdose toxicology reports is stronger than anything he has ever seen. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine, but many times stronger than heroin and requires higher doses of naloxone to reverse an overdose.  
"I don't think there is enough Narcan being carried on the street to keep them from dying (from fentanyl),” Campbell said. “It kills and it kills quick.”
Opioid overdoses are keeping police busy in many communities.   
Some weeks, Falls' Pinto said he responds to an overdose call every night.  
“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It’s so prevalent.”
That's why Pinto said he carries two doses of naloxone on every shift -- and some nights he uses both before the end of his shift.
Often, after reversing an overdose, Pinto finds himself trying to convince the person that death was narrowly averted. The typical reaction is denial. “Most of them don’t believe it,” he said.
Family and friends of people whose overdose was reversed are always extremely appreciative, the officer said. The people he saves, though, rarely offer their thanks, including the 21-year-old woman in the hotel room.
“Few and far between," was how Pinto described the times he's thanked by people whose overdoses he's reversed.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email:; Twitter: @JoCiavaglia

Bucks County grand jury: No charges in Solebury School sexual assault allegations

Posted Feb. 1, 2017
Prosecutor Monica Furber and District Attorney Matt Weintraub

Student freedom was valued over safety for decades at the Solebury School, and threadbare boundaries existed between children and adults — cultivating an environment “replete with widespread sexual abuse of students in plain sight,” according to a scathing report from a Bucks County grand jury released Wednesday.
Allegations of sexual abuse made by students were brought to the attention of school administrators, the grand jury found, but school leaders repeatedly failed to report them to police or the county child welfare agency.
Only once in the five decades of allegations the grand jury examined was anyone from Solebury School prosecuted for sexual abuse. That occurred in 1996 after a student and her parents went to police.
No one will be charged as a result of Wednesday's report, however. The statute of limitations has expired in five cases. A sixth alleged victim, whose reported abuse occurred in 2005, has declined to pursue charges, the grand jury report said.
"Should that victim ever change his or her mind, we will keep an open mind and make a determination at that point as to whether or not a prosecution is viable," Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said Wednesday during a press conference.
The allegations came to light nearly three years ago, when current Head of School Tom Wilschutz sent a letter to alumni acknowledging past sexual abuse allegations and asking potential victims to come forward.
In a statement Wednesday, Wilschutz said he knew that by reporting the allegations "we were putting in motion a process that could and has led us to today’s (grand jury) report.
"We are deeply disturbed that any Solebury student would have been the victim of sexual abuse and we again apologize to those former students who became victims. The individuals who committed these acts violated Solebury’s principles and values; their actions are indefensible. We deeply regret these transgressions and the resulting difficulties that the affected students have endured."
The grand jury report includes 18 recommendations directed at the school's administration.
Among the suggestions:
  • Establish and fund a program for students and alumni who identify themselves as victims of sexual abuse while attending the Solebury School, and have those individuals receive appropriate professional third-party counseling services.
  • Immediately suspend without pay and fire any faculty or staff member who fails to report an allegation of sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual misconduct involving a student.
During two years, the grand jury heard testimony from six former students who attended the school from the 1950s through the 2000s, as well as nine adults, including former staff members accused of sexual abuse and administrators who allegedly covered it up.
"These children, now adults, now senior citizens, have been condemned to a life sentence," Weintraub said.
A former biology teacher, now 68, who worked at the school from 1971 through 1976 testified that he couldn’t recall if he had sex with a then 14-year-old student — identified as D.C. in the report — because he may have been under the influence of drugs. D.C. told the grand jury that a school nurse had arranged for her to take a bus to the teacher’s home, where they had sex. She also testified that it was “generally known” in the school that teachers had sexual relationships with students.
This news organization is not naming the accused because he has not been charged.
The private boarding school off Phillips Mill Road in Solebury has about 235 students. Tuition for high school students who live on the 90-acre campus is $55,570 ($38,830 for nonboarding high school students). Middle school student tuition is $30,800.
Before the grand jury, former students and faculty described a relaxed, informal learning environment in which students called teachers by first names, formed close friendships with them and socialized freely with faculty and administrators.
"There is just no place for the blurring of lines between teachers and students, because they are never on equal footing," Weintraub said.
A 51-year-old woman, identified as M.A., testified that while attending Solebury School between 1979 and 1982 she was grabbed and forcibly kissed by a board of trustee member. The woman testified she brought the incident to the attention of the head of school, who refused to call police and told the girl to “let it go.”
Some of the most graphic testimony came from a 62-year-old man identified as P.R., who claimed in the fall of 1968, when he was 17, he was raped at an off-campus home by a "friend of the Solebury School." P.R. testified a teacher took him to the home, where he drank several sips of wine and then passed out. He testified he woke up naked and in pain next to the teacher’s friend, who also was naked. He later needed surgery for his injuries.
“No one at the school ever spoke to P.R. to ascertain what happened and no school officials contacted with the police or child protective services,” according to the grand jury report. “To this day, P.R. testified that he is afraid of the dark. He cannot attend movies or any dimly lit places. He is fearful of leaving his house.”
The culture at the school began to change in 2012 after Wilschutz took over and instituted a formal written policy at the school regarding allegations of sexual misconduct, authorities said.
The policy notes allegations must be reported to ChildLine and Solebury police; the accused staff or faculty member is then placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation and the student's parents are contacted.
Wilschutz also implemented mandatory victim assistance training every three years for employees, authorities said.
The grand jury’s recommendations include drug and alcohol testing for faculty and staff, zero-tolerance campus drug policies, hiring added security for boarding students and immediate termination of a faculty member when there is a founded allegation.
"Our focus continues to be on ensuring that we have the most comprehensive policies, procedures and training to protect the students who are in our care, and we will review the recommendations the grand jury has made in those areas," Wilschutz said in his statement.
In grand jury testimony, Wilschutz said he first learned of the allegations of student sex abuse in 2013 after he was contacted by a former student — Carole Trickett, now 79, who alleged she was sexually abused by Robert Shaw, one of the school founders. Shaw died in 1982. Trickett is identified in the report at C.T., but she has publicly come out as an abuse victim.
Reached at her home in Maine on Wednesday, Trickett said she feels Wilschutz has taken a “path of integrity” and that she feels a “modicum of satisfaction and joy.”
“Mostly right now, I feel a bit numb. This will melt. I want the school to be accountable for all its history. As you know, the winners always write the history, in this case, the cover-up. No more cover-up,” she said. “I understand, unhappily, the dual nature of humankind and I do not see the elimination of the behavior, but we can see the calling from those folks who are in better touch with their better nature, for us to hold one another responsible.”
The only former Solebury teacher ever charged criminally is David Chadwick, who in 1997 pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and related charges and was sentenced to one to three years in prison. Chadwick had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old female student in 1993 and 1994, authorities said. He was 28 at the time.
The only case that is recent enough to be criminally prosecuted involves a 27-year-old former student who alleges she was involved in a sexual relationship with a teacher who pursued her starting in her junior year at Solebury School. The relationship continued after she graduated; he remained a teacher until 2008, when he was terminated for embezzling funds from the school, according to the grand jury.
Former school students who knew the girl and the teacher testified that administrators knew about it and other inappropriate relationships but refused to administer discipline.
The grand jury report confirms the need for statute of limitation reform, said Upper Makefield attorney Marci Hamilton, senior fellow for research on religion at the University of Pennsylvania and an academic chair of CHILD USA, a new think tank focused on child abuse and neglect. Hamilton also represents one of the Solebury School victims.
Currently, prosecutors can pursue criminal charges of sexual abuse until a victim's 50th birthday, but only if the victim is now under age 40. Pennsylvania's current criminal statute of limitations already has expired for victims over age 40, she said.
The release of the Solebury School grand jury report comes the day the Pennsylvania Senate revived legislation to life time limits on when some perpetrators of child sexual abuse can be sued by their victims and prosecuted by authorities. The Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously for legislation that was propelled by fresh Roman Catholic Church scandals in Pennsylvania. Identical legislation passed by the Senate died last year amid a disagreement with the House over restoring the ability of child victims to sue for damages if they are now older than the current legal age limit of 30.