For most of us, the consequences of a criminal conviction and prison sentence last years, decades and maybe a lifetime. If you go to prison, even if it’s “only” for a couple of months, you could lose your job, your home and even your family. But what happens when a police officer has to serve a prison sentence? Apparently, not much.
A Pennsylvania police chief was convicted for threatening a social media critic with a false charge and was sentenced to prison.
In Feb. 2020, Former West Hazleton (PA) Police Chief Brian Buglio noticed that someone had criticized him and the West Hazleton Police Department on Facebook. He could have ignored the social media posts like most of us parents teach our kids to do. But Chief Buglio didn’t. Instead, he contacted the person who made the Facebook posts and directed him to come to the police station.
Once the man arrived at the police station, Chief Buglio threatened him with felony charges. In lieu of facing the bogus charges, Buglio coerced the man to make a “deal” with him. That coerced deal required that the man remove the posts and stop criticizing Chief Buglio and the department. According to reporting from the Times Leader’s Jerry Lynott, the two men then “shook hands to confirm they had a deal.”
Chief Buglio’s conduct was an abuse of power, violated the poster’s First Amendment rights and also was against the law.
Threatening law-abiding Americans with bogus charges because they criticized police on Facebook is obviously an abuse of power and an embarrassment to anyone who cares about the rule of law. But having a government actor — including a police officer — retaliate against someone for constitutionally protected speech also violates the First Amendment. And it also violates the law.
The Scranton Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Public Corruption Task Force investigated Chief Buglio’s conduct. And the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania filed a criminal charge against him. Chief Buglio ultimately pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge of deprivation of civil rights. A federal judge sentenced him to two months in prison, four months of home confinement, one year of supervised release and a $5,000 fine.
Despite using his power as Police Chief to threaten an innocent Pennsylvanian, Chief Buglio remains West Hazelton’s Public Safety Director.
If you thought Chief Buglio’s use of his authority to threaten critics would have employment consequences, you’d be wrong. Chief Buglio did resign as Police Chief. But he was quickly reappointed as West Hazelton’s Public Safety Director. In fact, he’s taking personal and vacation days to serve his prison sentence, meaning Pennsylvania tax dollars are paying for him to sit in prison twice — once for his salary and once for prison costs.
Imagine if you used your job to commit a crime. Would you keep your job? Would your boss let you use your personal or vacation time to go to prison? It’s not a privilege many enjoy. But, at least for this police officer, it’s one he’s entitled to. Chief Buglio’s scheduled release date is Jan. 3, 2022. In the meantime, Pennsylvania taxpayers will pay twice for their police chief to sit in prison for a crime he committed on the job.