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Westmoreland Co. Sheriff Defends ‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

FREELAND-WEB-HEADSHOT-2013 Lynne Hayes-Freeland
Lynne Hayes-Freeland is a general assignment reporter known for live,...
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GREENSBURG (KDKA) – The sheriff of Westmoreland County is now requiring drug testing for his staff.

In fact, he and his management staff will undergo drug testing tomorrow.

This change in policy comes after a sheriff’s deputy was arrested last week.

However, Sheriff Jonathan Held said that woman wasn’t the first employee to have charges brought against them.

“We do have a zero tolerance policy here in the office,” Held said.

Part-time deputy Erika Ditch was charged with drug possession after being arrested in the parking lot of the East Liberty Target store.

According to police, they found Ditch and another woman doing heroin in their car.

Ditch resigned the day after she was released from jail.

However, at least three more current or former employees in the Sheriff’s Office have criminal records.

Deputy Sheriff Alex Harshell, 25, of Greensburg was charged with drunk driving in February. He is in a rehab program for first-time offenders, and is on desk duty.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Murphy, 24, of Penn, pleaded guilty in 2009 to giving alcohol to minors. He was sentenced to one year of probation and still works for the county.

Clerk Mario Lizza, 35, of Scottdale was arrested last year for allegedly turning in drug-free urine to be used for a drug test. He went to a rehab program and served six months probation, but no longer works for the county.

When asked about his zero tolerance comment from last week Sheriff Held defended his hiring practices.

“That was zero tolerance for illegal drug use, use of illegal drugs. Alcohol is a legal drug, and I think every case, especially under the labor laws, it has to be taken on a case-by-case study,” Sheriff Held said. “If they’ve paid their debt to society, then they will be considered for employment.”

“As law enforcement, we’re not perfect. We’re people too. We can develop problems. We’re in high-stress jobs,” Sheriff Held said. “The important thing, as far as public trust is considered, is that law enforcement officers answer to their charges just like anybody else does and there’s no favors, no back handed, backroom deals and no cover-ups.”

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