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The former head of a local Fraternal Order of Police chapter says a Pennsylvania police chief was given the option of resigning or being fired after his wife posted a message on Facebook supportive of President Donald Trump.
On Oct. 2, Lancaster Mayor Danene Sorace announced that Chief Jarrad Berkihiser was retiring in a short media event where she took no follow-up questions and which he did not attend, according to a local report.
But John Fiorill, the immediate past president of the local FOP, said Berkihiser was essentially forced out, adding that the mayor demanded his resignation or she would fire him.
Fiorill noted his account is based on a phone call the former chief made to the FOP lodge in search of legal advice after Sorace demanded that he resign.
“The irony of this whole thing is, he didn’t make that statement,” Fiorill told Lancaster Online. “He knows better than to get involved in politics. It was his wife. Where does the mayor have the audacity to request his resignation based on what his wife said? He had nothing to do with it.”
In the Sept. 27 Facebook post, which has been deleted, Kristy Berkihiser was responding to comments a friend made after volunteering at President Trump’s campaign rally at the Harrisburg International Airport a day earlier.
The friend said that the president “spoke so much of law enforcement officers and his respect and thankfulness for them!”
Kristy Berkihiser responded, “why i’m voting for him again. Same reason as last time… you don’t see him meeting w Jacob Blake’s family or speaking to him by phone…”
Blake is the black man shot by a Kenosha, Wis., police officer in August after he tussled with officers, ignored their commands to stop and reached into his vehicle, where he had a knife on the floorboard.
In an email to Lancaster Online, Sorace said, “As it relates to Chief Berkihiser’s retirement, I have nothing further to add beyond my comments last Friday.”
The outlet said that the chief is still on the payroll until the end of this month, but he is no longer reporting for duty.
Berkihiser, 49, has been with the department for 26, years, the local outlet reported. He started as a patrol officer, then worked his way up to captain and eventually chief.
Sorace named Berkihiser to his post in May 2018 after a stint as acting chief and after a nationwide search, saying he was, “in many ways … Lancaster’s best-kept secret.” She further described him as a leader “with integrity, vision, and a deep commitment” to the community.
Berkihiser told the outlet Friday that his retirement was “unexpected and unplanned,” but declined to comment further. Fiorill said the chief’s separation agreement forbids him from speaking publicly about the conditions of his employment.
Kristy Berkihiser, however, defended her husband and her own actions.
“That afternoon I read an article about a presidential candidate visiting a victim’s family after a critical incident where all the facts are still being investigated and I was sickened that they were used so a politician could pander for votes. I feel this behavior is disrespectful to the family and the community,” she told the outlet in a statement.
“To sacrifice his career to save face for my remark taken out of context and my political affiliation is terrible. He deserves better. I have heard so many people say he is the right chief for the right time. It is because he is. He is genuine, fair, and truthful in all he does and never for his own gain,” she added.
Fiorill also sang the chief’s praises.
“I can tell you this guy is a very qualified chief of police. He had all the credentials necessary to run the police department,” he added.
On Berkihiser’s employment status, Fiorill added: “It’s not performance-related. It’s political. And it was because of the pressure some of the more radical members of (the mayor’s) inner circle placed on her.”
Last month, the national office of the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed President Trump’s reelection.
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