The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

July 7, 2014

Traffic stop rankles motorist

HARTLETON — New Hartleton police Chief James Galbreath overstepped his authority, according to a Valley resident who was pulled over in Snyder County by an unmarked car and questioned by an “officer” in a civilian shirt.

The driver, Eric Wagner, of Mifflinburg, was accused by the officer — who did not identify himself as a police officer —of speeding, but was not fined, and the officer made off quickly.

It turns out that “officer” was Galbreath, and he made the stop outside of his jurisdiction. At Monday night’s Borough Council meeting, Wagner confronted both Galbreath and the council over the matter.

“I decided I’m not taking this lying down,” Wagner said earlier in the day.

He went to the council meeting to discuss Galbreath’s behavior and ask for an oral and written apology from the chief to both himself and his wife. He said he also wanted to talk to Mayor Jim Dorman about what he called Galbreath’s rude and uncalled-for behavior.

Dorman did not attend the meeting due to illness in his family. Galbreath was there and was given the chance to speak after Wagner.

As the meeting began, Wagner asked the council if “the boundaries of the borough had been expanded.”

The answer, of course, was no.

He then went on to tell his side of the story, about being stopped by Galbreath outside of Hartleton.

“I did nothing wrong,” he said.

On May 3, Wagner said, “I was traveling with my wife and son southbound on Route 204 on our way to a kickball game in Selinsgrove.” He was not speeding, he said. He passed cars legally only when there was a broken yellow line in the middle of the road.

Wagner said he then noticed a “large white sedan” close behind him had blue and red lights “flashing from a dashboard light.” He pulled over, as did the white sedan.

“I realized he was pursuing me, but I didn’t know who the heck he was,” Wagner said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

A man got out of the car, Wagner said, “and he was not wearing a police uniform. We were very uneasy. He asked to see my information. He did not identify himself in any way and had no visible ID.”

The “officer” then accused Wagner of driving at more than 80 mph.

“I said that I knew for sure I was not,” Wagner said. “He then said, very loud and belligerently, ‘Are you calling me a liar?’”

When another man appeared opposite Wagner, the officer — according to Wagner — said, “I am going to let you go, but you shouldn’t drive that fast and you can’t pass two cars at the same time on the portion of the road that you did because it’s illegal.”

Wagner said Galbreath got quickly in his car and drove off.

Galbreath, sitting across the row from Wagner at Monday’s council meeting, said that as an officer with 35 years of experience, “I viewed his speed as excessive.”

Wagner had been speeding, Galbreath said, and he posed a danger to other drivers. He said that Wagner passed two cars over a double solid line on an incline. “As an officer, I was only looking out for people. I didn’t want you to get hurt. I didn’t want your wife to get hurt.”

“What do you want us to do as council?” asked borough solicitor Mark Lemon, who agreed that if an unidentified man stopped him while he was with his family, he too would have been upset.

But Lemon maintained that Galbreath’s actions were not done in his capacity as Hartleton police chief. “He did this on his own, as a citizen,” Lemon said.

Galbreath at this point apologized to both Wagner and the council. “I apologize to you, Mr. Wagner,” he said. But he continued to say that he believed Wagner had posed a danger to others and had been speeding.

This is something that can never be proven either way, Wagner admitted. “It’s a he-said, she-said situation.”

Wagner wondered aloud who supervised Galbreath.

“It’s the mayor,” Lemon said.

“Then I’ll want to speak to the mayor about this,” Wagner said.

Galbreath said he was willing to prepare a written apology.

The council then moved on to borough business.

After Wagner left the council room, he commented on the proceedings. “His side of the story is laughable,” he said. “I have witnesses inside the vehicle. Yes, they are relatives, but they can verify what I’ve said. It’s obvious he doesn’t know the Pennsylvania Driving Motor Vehicle Code and the laws that he is supposed to be enforcing here, not anywhere else. Yes, he apologized, but he continued to accuse me of things I did not do.”

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