By Rick Dandes and Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
WILLIAMSPORT - A Sunbury man filed a $500,000 federal lawsuit Tuesday against Point Township and its police department for allegedly violating his civil rights.
Ben Scheller, 34, filed a complaint in the Middle District Court against the township, the police department, Point Township Police Chief Josh VanKirk and former Point Township office Wade Lytle. The lawsuit claims that Lytle, who was the lead investigator on the case, had a romantic interest in the alleged victim — who was also the cousin of VanKirk— and that he didn’t interview the woman for nearly four months after the original complaint of rape came to the Point Township police.
Scheller was arrested in March 2012 after police said he brandished a silver semi-automatic handgun, zip-tied a woman to a chair and sexually assaulted her on Nov. 27, 2011.
Scheller spent nearly a year in the Northumberland County Prison until the Northumberland County district attorney’s office decided to drop the rape charge in February and release Scheller.
Assistant District Attorney Ann Targonski said she agreed to dismiss the counts because of stress on the alleged victim.
Scheller agreed to plead guilty to terroristic threats, two counts of simple assault and false imprisonment in connection with the March incident in the home of the Point Township woman. Scheller was sentenced to the time he served in prison and two years of probation.
“At this time, we are involved in litigation and the township supervisors are not able to speak on any of those issues,” said Randy Yoxheimer, chairman of the township supervisors. “I can say that we work very hard to make sure the township does not do anything inappropriate. The complaint will be dealt with.”
Chief VanKirk was not available for comment.
Township solicitor Rick Shoch said, “The supervisors and our chief acted entirely appropriately throughout this matter and beyond that I have no comment.
“This is a personnel-related matter.”
Considering the nature of the alleged crime, Scheller said police knew that bail would be set at a high dollar figure, which guaranteed he would be in jail until a trial.
Scheller contends that Lytle and the alleged victim were romantically involved.
Because Scheller was incarcerated, it allowed Lytle and the woman to continue their relationship, Scheller claimed.
In September 2012 the alleged victim gave birth to a child and Scheller claimed in court documents that he is the father of that child.
Schller said he was not able to be at the hospital for the birth of the child because of being incarcerated but that Lytle was present.
Once allegations of the relationship began to arise, Lytle was placed on paid administrative leave after he told VanKirk that he had become romantically involved with the woman.
The disclosure triggered a cascade of concerns about potential conflicts of interest, including the fact that the alleged victim was a cousin of the police chief, who passed the case to Lytle. Lytle was eventually fired by supervisors.
Scheller is seeking $500,000 plus punitive damages and said he now suffers from emotional distress.