Aliquippa’s assistant police chief has sued the city, mayor, city police chief, Beaver County district attorney and two county detectives in federal court after the last charge against him was dropped in a case involving a vulgar text message.
Joseph Perciavalle III, who remains on paid administrative leave, filed a suit in federal court on Thursday against Aliquippa, Mayor Dwan Walker, Aliquippa Police Chief Don Couch, Beaver County District Attorney David Lozier, and county detectives Andrew Gall and Robert Heberle.
In the lawsuit, Perciavalle claims that his constitutional rights were violated.
A 45-year-old Hopewell Township resident, Perciavalle was charged in 2018 after he sent a text message to several people, including then-17-year-old Lauren Watkins, the daughter of Aliquippa police officer Kenneth Watkins, who has sued Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker and District Attorney David Lozier for damaging his reputation.
Perciavalle’s text contained a video in which a woman was nude from the waist down urinating while riding a swing.
The video was discovered in June 2018 during the investigation into the murder of Rachael DelTondo on Mother’s Day that previous May. County detectives found the video on the cellphone of Lauren Watkins, the police officer’s daughter who is considered the last person to see DelTondo alive, and they then searched Perciavalle’s phone.
Perciavalle was initially charged in Beaver County Court with corruption of minors, disseminating explicit sexual materials to minors and unlawful contact with a minor.
However, the charges of disseminating explicit sexual materials to minors and unlawful contact were dismissed in May 2019, and state prosecutors dropped the remaining corruption of minors charge against Perciavalle on March 13, just six days before Pennsylvania courts were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In July 2019, state prosecutors also dropped a charge of intercepting communications against Perciavalle for allegedly secretly recording a conversation between himself and Couch in March 2018 shortly after the state police executed a search warrant on Aliquippa city hall.
Watkins filed his lawsuit in federal court March 19, claiming that Lozier and Walker retaliated against him after he refused to testify, citing his right against self-incrimination, in a preliminary hearing for Perciavalle.
Now free from all charges, Perciavalle, a seven-year veteran, claims in his lawsuit that he began sharing information about wrongdoing within the Aliquippa department, including Couch, with Walker and city council in 2015 and with Lozier in 2016.
Perciavalle said he spoke to Lozier numerous times about investigations involving the department and shared documents, but on Nov. 28, 2016, he texted Lozier, who replied, “Who is this?” and stopped communicating with Perciavalle.
The lawsuit says that the defendants “maintain a close personal friendship” and Perciavalle believes that Lozier or Walker, or both, told Couch about Perciavalle’s reports about him and the department and that Lozier then concocted a plan to “investigate and prosecute” Perciavalle using Heberle and Gall.
Perciavalle’s lawsuit says he “mistakenly” sent the text containing the video on May 10, 2018, to Lauren Watkins and her parents. The lawsuit says Perciavalle had “no intention” of sending the text and video to the 17-year-old and he apologized to Kenneth Watkins the next day.
Heberle found the video on Perciavalle’s phone on June 5, 2018, and Couch was placed on administrative leave the next day.
On June 7, Gall and Heberle obtained a search warrant for Perciavalle’s cell phone, a warrant the lawsuit describes as “overly broad and nonspecific and, therefore, legally insufficient.” Perciavalle was charged on June 8, but his lawsuit states that there was no probable cause because the image on his phone was censored and “did not contain a sexually explicit image.”
Perciavalle claims that Lozier directed the detectives to obtain the search warrant in retaliation for him reporting on the supposed wrongdoing in within the police department. The lawsuit says the detectives “should have known” that Perciavalle did not intend to send the video to Lauren Watkins and that Lozier engaged in “investigatory practices” outside of his prosecutorial duties.
After he was charged, Perciavalle was removed as acting police chief. On July 10, he was charged with intercepting communications, for which he says detectives also lacked probable cause.
Perciavalle also says in the lawsuit that there was an unnamed third party present when he recorded the conversation with Couch.
The lawsuit says that Perciavalle again reported wrongdoing to some Aliquippa Council members last month and they told Walker, who responded, “No, you’re chasing (Perciavalle’s) waterfalls again.”
Perciavalle claims in his lawsuit that Walker refuses to reinstate him because he has reported on wrongdoing within the city department. Because of Walker’s actions, Perciavalle says he has suffered severe emotional distress, economic damages, and “severe harm” to his reputation and career.
The lawsuit alleges that Perciavalle’s First Amendment rights were violated, and that some or all of the defendants engaged in a conspiracy, illegally retaliated against him, conducted an unlawful search and seizure and pursued a malicious prosecution against him.
Walker has said he will not comment on any pending litigation on the advice of city attorneys. Lozier declined to comment.
©2020 the Beaver County Times (Beaver, Pa.)
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