Masontown, PA – When the president of the city council learned about theft committed by the local police and began calling for an audit of the department over “seemingly corrupt and unethical actions,” police responded by raiding his home and stealing from his property.
John Stoffa told The Free Thought Project that he raised his concerns about past theft within the department at a city council meeting in January, and he openly called for an audit. Days after the meeting, in what is now alleged be a clear act of retaliation, Stoffa's home was raided by police.
Stoffa said he believes the invasion of his home and confiscation of his property is a blatant attempt to prevent the police department from being audited. The council president's home was searched by three officers—two from Masontown and one from Cumberland Township. They confiscated his son's Ipad, his iPhone, CD's and DVD's, a couple of Sony memory sticks, his home computer, and three USB hard drives.
"They could have planted something for all I know," Stoffa told TFTP. "But we got it back. My attorney has it now."
He also noted that even though the council has voted in favor of an audit, it has yet to begin. "They never began the audit. We actually voted to do the audit after they raided my home," he said.
We asked Stoffa why he believes he was targeted by the police and he said, "because I was the most vocal about them. Nobody else questioned their practices, they kinda just did what they wanted."
When asked why he was so concerned about auditing the police department, Stoffa told us it is because he has "heard too many stories of people's Constitutional rights being abused by this bunch [of cops]." Now he can relate.
There is a disagreement between Mayor Toni Petrus and the Masontown council over who actually has authority over the police department. "Since we hire, and fire, and promote within the police department I believe we [the council] have the authority to audit the police department," Stoffa said.
To date, no charges have been filed against Stoffa for any incriminating evidence found in his possessions. He and his lawyers filed a motion to quash the search warrant and return his property for the—as he sees it—politically motivated violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
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Stoffa is now suing the Borough, the Masontown Police Department, Police Chief Joe Ryan, the mayor, the ex-council president, and the police officers involved in the perceived illegal raid of his home. Per the civil rights lawsuit, he's asking for damages to be determined by a jury as demanded by Stoffa's attorney, Charity Krupa.
When asked if he felt intimidated by the raid, Stoffa said he was "pretty sick, pretty upset," and had "trouble sleeping for a while."
"The Attorney General's Office is handling the investigation now. The DA's office stepped aside and turned it over to the Attorney General," Stoffa told TFTP.
Stoffa said police had no probable cause to investigate him as he had committed no crime, was not in the process of committing a crime and was not planning on committing a crime. He acknowledged that it could have been worse, and said he is thankful that his wife and son were not home at the time of the raid.
The Masontown council has placed the audit on pause. Stoffa said he believes the police raid of his property acted as a warning, and as a result, "They have everyone afraid of retaliation, afraid their house will get raided."
Stoffa also said there is a lot of shady business dealings going on in Masontown. For instance, he claimed the police chief's wife has a cleaning contract— for at least $550 per month—to clean the Borough office building and police station in what looks like a case of nepotism. The Police Association Fund is also being questioned by Stoffa. He said the Borough has no idea how much money is in the fund, how it is raised, or how it is spent.
Stoffa said he also wants a copy of the "Policies and Procedures" manual the police department has. "For some reason, it's a secret here," he said, adding that while he has seen it, neither he, the council, nor the public have access to it.
Krupa asked for a copy of it as well but was told Stoffa would have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. "Until we get these issues resolved, I'm going to keep pushing," Stoffa vowed.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, John Stoffa is not the first citizen to attempt to work with the local city council to bring about change in his community. A homeowner in Green Bay, Wisconsin, decided to run for city council on the platform of police accountability after he claimed he was harassed and later assaulted by officers, and his home was raided with no probable cause. He hung a banner on his property that said, "We pray for NO MORE RAIDS ON INNOCENT FAMILIES AND HOMES AGAIN!”