Catasauqua Press

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Residents protest at Coplay meeting

Thursday, January 21, 2016 by Paul Cmil Special to The Press in Local News

Leighton Pursell is listed for police position

About 40 pet-friendly protesters crammed into Coplay Borough Council Chambers Jan. 12 to address council on a police hiring. Officer Leighton Pursell is on the borough civil service commission’s list of officers qualified for an open position on the Coplay police force. Pursell is being questioned for an action he took against a cat.

The officer, on patrol in North Catasauqua, shot and killed a house cat named Sugar when he suspected the cat was injured and ready to attack. A neighbor of the cat’s owner had asked for police assistance when he found the cat on his property.

The protesters were represented by Attorney Jenna Fliszar who represents the cat’s owner Tom Newhart, who was also present at the meeting. Fliszar’s firm specializes in animal welfare cases. Fliszar presented her report to council, asking that Pursell be removed from consideration for the Coplay position.

Fliszar berated the officer, accusing him of animal cruelty and not being capable of good judgment. She indicated that Pursell might next take aim at children and residents.

Bodish asked that the emotional escalation stop.

Newhart contends he is still in shock over the incident.

“I called on the police to help me find my cat and, instead, they shot my pet and threw him a dumpster,” he said. Others rallied around Newhart, referring to their own pets as “fur-kids.”

“I have a lot of respect for the police, but sometimes you run across someone like this, and we don’t need them in Coplay,” Sheila Archer said in her comments to council.

The theme from all those who spoke was that Pursell must not be hired. Halfway through the comments, council President Louis Bodish asked that only Coplay residents make statements to keep the meeting under control.

Bodish and Coplay Solicitor James Preston made similar comments during the discussion.

“We have not made a hiring decision,” Bodish said. “Officer Pursell is on the list, and, as such, we are obligated to consider him.”

Preston noted that the Northampton County district attorney and the borough of North Catasauqua are investigating the incident.

“As far as I know, there have not been any charges filed, and the investigation is ongoing. It makes sense that we wait to see the outcome of the various agencies reviewing the situation before we make any decision,” he said.

“This is not a trial. There are legal consequences to withdraw or make an offer. We will follow the guidelines given to us,” Preston said.

After the meeting, Preston emphasized there are certain rules and regulations the borough must adhere to when looking at positions governed by the civil service commission.

“We have not made a hiring decision on Officer Pursell. Everything is on hold, awaiting the various ongoing investigations,” he said. “As I mentioned, we need to be careful and not rush to judgment until we have all the facts and opinions on the situation.”

Although Sugar’s owner was disappointed there was no definite answer that evening, he was critical of North Catasauqua’s handling of the situation.

“They sat there like a bunch of lame ducks when we presented the facts and did nothing,” he said.