Westfield Police Chief Dale Niles is under investigation after a heated borough council meeting Tuesday, May 11.
“I recommend we reassign Niles from patrol duty to desk duty and he is not to utilize his police car unless in an emergency, until an investigation of allegations has been completed, effective immediately,” said Councilmember Denis Landry after an executive session.
Councilmember Roxann Weidman seconded the motion, which passed unanimously. It’s not clear yet how the investigation will proceed or whether it will be carried out by a third party.
Prior to council’s action, some of the 15 visitors attending the meeting accused Niles of a conflict of interest and ethics violation for his testimony in court on behalf of Andrew Hummel. Hummel, who lives in Westfield Township and owns Courtney’s Auto in Westfield borough, was found guilty in January of three felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals and two misdemeanors.
He was sentenced to nine months house arrest followed by probation on April 12, when Niles gave his testimony. Hummel attended the council meeting, explaining that his sentence was delayed 30 days while he appeals it.
“I was subpoenaed,” Niles said at the meeting. “I was asked to testify about the stuff that I’ve been involved with him from the police department.”
According to court transcripts from the sentencing, Hummel’s attorney Stephen Banik asked Niles what kind of person he finds Hummel to be.
“...I think he’s a kind, caring individual that has helped a lot of people out that gets misunderstood sometimes,” said Niles according to the transcripts, detailing some occasions that Hummel helped the town or its residents.
Banik also asked Niles whether he believed Hummel was “the kind of person who would intentionally starve an animal,” to which Niles answered, “I don’t believe so.”
Laura Clarson, who assisted Humane Officer Krys Knecht in Hummel’s case, described at the meeting what they found at the scene – a horse starved for months who died and a steer locked inside a shed with no food or water.
“He (Hummel) was literally convicted of torturing an animal to death and the chief of police in court called him a kind, caring and misunderstood individual, and that just threw me for a complete loop,” said Clarson.
“I can understand your concern, but he was subpoenaed, he had to go,” said Council President Gail Bollinger. “He was subpoenaed to give his opinion. And we are all allowed to have our opinions, but we don’t have to necessarily agree with other’s opinions.”
“I think the concern is more of a conflict of interest instead of him giving his opinion,” said Taylor Easton, a Westfield resident. “He (Niles) said everything kind about this individual (Hummel)...you can look up where this individual has multiple charges of harassment through the Westville Police Department. But none of that was brought up.”
She continued, “If multiple people in town are having issues with Mr. Hummel, how do we know if we can trust our issues with the police.”
Niles responded, “Any incident involving the Hummels was passed on to another officer so there could be no accusation [of a conflict of interest].”
Elkland resident Terry Wells said she planned to file a complaint with the ethics board through her daughter’s law firm.
Westfield resident Lorie Card, who requested council investigate allegations against Niles in September 2020, read a letter addressed to council and Mayor Beth Rowland, who was not at the meeting.
“…I am aware of two letters that were sent to him (Niles) from a lawyer concerning harassment and trespassing on property,” reads Card’s letter. “...The individuals concerned in the harassment prefer to be kept confidential due to public affiliations and repercussions from Police Chief Niles.”
Niles confirmed he received such letters from attorneys, which he said were based on “hearsay.”
Bollinger said council sent the information Card submitted to them in September to a third party “to be investigated several months ago…If there was something actionable, they would have gotten back to us.”
Several times during the meeting, multiple visitors talked at once and raised their voices. Bollinger attempted to regain control of the meeting and move council to an executive session several times, but visitors did not leave the room.
On the third attempt, she directed council and Niles to convene in the adjacent borough office. When council reconvened, they voted to initiate the investigation into Niles’ actions.