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Protection-from-abuse order issued against Blairsville mayor

by SAM KUSIC skusic@indianagazette.net on November 20, 2013 10:55 AM

BLAIRSVILLE — A judge issued a temporary protection-from-abuse order against Blairsville Mayor Joe Caugherty after he allegedly threatened to harm his girlfriend on Monday evening.

The restraining order, issued by Indiana County Judge Carol Hanna, prohibits Caugherty from having any contact with his girlfriend, Pamela Freed. He also was required to surrender any firearms he possesses. According to court records, Freed sought the restraining order after Caugherty thrice threatened to shoot her in the head while the two were driving home.

“Coming home, he threatened me, saying he would blow my head off. He said when I was sleeping he would do it,” Freed stated in the petition for the order.

Freed also stated that Caugherty, 72, had tried to control her by leaving notes lying around. One, she said, demanded that she pay the electric bill if she wanted to turn the lights on. She also said Caugherty would buy groceries for himself, but left her to fend for herself.

A hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 27 before Hanna.

Caugherty was a longtime borough police officer and served as chief for seven years. He retired in 2001.

He later became a borough councilman and was elected mayor in 2009. He had sought re-election this year but was defeated in the May primary by Councilman Ron Evanko.

Council met Tuesday, but Caugherty was absent. The petition for the order indicates that Caugherty hasn’t been charged criminally.

Caugherty could not be reached for comment at press time today.

The restraining order isn’t the only civil matter in which Caugherty has been named as a defendant.

Blairsville police Officer Jill Gaston is suing Caugherty for slander. She contends that he tried to undermine her reputation by spreading a falsehood about her among other borough officials.

According to the lawsuit, Caugherty, on at least two occasions in March 2012, told Blairsville Municipal Authority executive director Ron Hood, several authority board members and others that Gaston was having an affair and had been having sex in the authority office.

Gaston, however, said the accusation was untrue, and that Caugherty was trying to harm her reputation and sabotage her employment.

At the time Caugherty is said to have made the statements, Gaston was the department’s officer in charge, a position she had held since the sudden departure of former Chief Chris Thompson in June 2010.

Although council members said the intent was to hire a permanent chief when they handed the responsibilities to Gaston, two years passed before they decided to begin the search, which was initiated in June 2012.

Gaston said she applied for the job, but was never interviewed. The job ultimately went to current Chief Chris Allman, who moved from Brooke County, W.Va., to accept the position. There he had served as a district magistrate and county sheriff.

He is earning $55,000 annually.

Gaston’s attorney said in the lawsuit that not only were Caugherty’s accusations defamatory in and of themselves, they placed Gaston in an untenable position with the borough, “forcing her to become a complainer and in turn be perceived as a police officer who is not a team player.”

“The need to defend against these libelous attacks substantially damaged the long-standing good will established by (Gaston) over her years of employment with the borough such that she is now regarded as a troublemaker and has been passed over for promotion to the position of chief of police. But for the defamatory conduct … (Gaston) would likely have been promoted to the rank of chief.”

Gaston also said that Caugherty groundlessly threatened that she would be fired, tried to coerce her into resigning and treated her differently than the male officers who reported to her, setting more stringent work rules for her than for them.

Gaston is seeking in excess of $50,000 in damages. She is married to Indiana County Deputy Sheriff Jody Gaston. He initially was listed as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, but has withdrawn his name.

In his legal response to Gaston’s lawsuit, Caugherty denied the accusations and said that anything he might have said was truthful.

Moreover, as a public official, Caugherty is immune to such a lawsuit, his attorneys said.

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