A Cumberland Township detective has been dropped from a federal lawsuit filed earlier this year by Masontown’s council president, in which he alleged his own borough’s police officers tried to intimidate him by searching his home as retribution for criticism of the department.
Both sides agreed last week Cumberland Township, its police department and Sgt. Tony Gismondi never should have been named in the federal lawsuit filed Jan. 26 by John Stoffa II and his wife, Rosa, after Masontown police searched their home earlier that month and seized several personal items.
Gismondi and Masontown police officers Thomas O’Barto and Alexis Metros were present during the Jan. 18 search and were named as defendants. So, too, were Masontown police Chief Joseph Ryan, Mayor Toni Petrus and former councilmen Harry Lee and Frank McLaughlin.
But Cumberland Township solicitor Dennis Makel said Gismondi and his police department played no role in the search itself. Lawyers for all involved began discussing in July about dismissing the Greene County municipality from the lawsuit, and a stipulation for voluntary dismissal was filed Oct. 4 in federal court in Pittsburgh.
“From our perspective, it was a stretch because there was no involvement from the township or Gismondi,” Makel said. “That was our position from the beginning. It made no sense.”
All of the others are still named in the lawsuit, along with Masontown Police Department and an unnamed woman.
The president of Masontown Borough Council has filed a federal lawsuit accusing the Fayette County town’s police department of trying to intimidate him by searching his home earlier this month as political retribution for his criticism of its officers.
Stoffa, who has been a councilman since January 2016 and was selected as the board’s president earlier this year, claimed the officers violated his constitutional rights through the search and other intimidation around that time.
According to the search warrant requested Jan. 17 by O’Barto and signed by District Judge Mike Defino Jr., who is a magistrate in neighboring Brownsville, Masontown police claimed they received reports Stoffa was circulating obscene photos of a nude woman “claiming to be a person involved in the borough … in an attempt to smear or cause upheaval, or influence” during the 2017 municipal election. Police went to Stoffa’s home the following day and seized cellphones, notebooks, computers, memory sticks, photographs and an iPad used by his special-needs son.
Neither Stoffa’s attorney, Charity Grimm Krupa, nor Charles Saul, who represents the defendants, returned phone calls seeking comment on the dismissal of Cumberland Township from the lawsuit.
The lawsuit requests a jury trial and demands unspecified monetary compensation.