HOLLIDAYSBURG - Senior Judge Thomas G. Peoples is calling for an investigation into the way Altoona police handled a protection-from-abuse case in June because, the judge said, it appeared an officer might have been telling an alleged victim to commit insurance fraud.
A city police lieutenant, who helped handle the case, denied the judge's accusation and said insurance was never discussed with the alleged victim.
Peoples, who for more than two years has heard the bulk of the county's PFA cases, was presiding over PFA court Thursday morning when a woman with two children came before him and asked that a three-year protective order imposed on her boyfriend in June be dismissed.
In a written statement presented to the judge, the woman, Jamey Keith of Altoona, said she "wished to drop the PFA against Robert Reed [her boyfriend] because the Altoona Police Department advised me to get the PFA to cover my home owners insurance for damages that had occurred when the children and I weren't home."
She said, "Robert was never violent with me or my children."
Keith wrote, "If the police had done their jobs, we wouldn't be here. ... I told police several times I didn't need a PFA."
The nub of the story, as Peoples understood it, was that a police officer was telling Keith to request a PFA against William Robert Reed III, 32, and and use it to support an insurance claim to replace a door Reed had kicked open at her home.
Peoples had already had a frustrating day in PFA court when the Keith-Reed case was called.
He had just heard a case in which a husband and wife obtained PFA orders against each other a month ago but now wanted to drop the orders for the sake of the children. People refused to dismiss them, stating that this was an example of abuse of the PFA system.
Then came the PFA request by Keith to scrap her three-year PFA order.
"Oh great. ... Another petition to modify," the judge said.
Peoples called what he thought was advice to commit insurance fraud a "new low."
He has been critical of city police handling of PFAs many times previously. But on Thursday he lashed out, saying the police department had gone "one step too far this time."
"What they suggested to you was fraud," the judge told Keith.
Peoples said he was "astonished" at the situation, said it was "just garbage" and called it "horrendous."
Peoples asked a court reporter to type a transcript of the hearing and send a copy to Blair County President Judge Jolene G. Kopriva. Peoples said Kopriva should review it with Altoona Police Chief Janice Freehling.
Meanwhile, Peoples said he would not dismiss the PFA order against Reed until he gets an explanation from Altoona police.
Freehling was not available Thursday for comment, but Lt. Jeffrey Pratt, who with a detective dealt with the Keith-Reed matter when it occurred, said the police never discussed insurance with Keith.
He said the matter was handled "professionally" with police referring Keith to Magisterial District Judge Steve Jackson to discuss the issuance of a protective order.
According to Pratt, Keith and Reed had been paramours, living together.
Keith accused Reed of taking her laptop computer, and she wanted burglary charges filed against Reed for kicking open a door on June 19 when she and the children were not at home to gain entry. Reed technically was a resident of the home because his belongings were there, Pratt said.
Pratt said police could not charge Reed with burglary because of his resident status, but police did charge Reed with theft of the computer. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21.
Pratt said police went a step further, contacting Magisterial District Judge Jackson and referring Keith there if she felt she and the children needed protection from Reed.
He said "at no point in time" were insurance matters discussed with Keith.
Kopriva said Thursday that there have been complaints about the city police department's handling of PFA matters in the past and that a procedure has been established in which a court reporter prepares a transcript of the hearing. That transcript is forwarded to Freehling, who, the judge said, determines if police gave bad advice to an alleged victim.
Freehling provides training to the officers if mistakes were made.
Kopriva said, "We are trying to create a communications loop so we can all do a good job."
She said that Freehling has been "very cooperative" in dealing with the PFA issues referred to her by the court.
The judge also explained that Peoples is very protective of the PFA system and doesn't want to see people taking advantage of it.
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.