Schuylkill County Faces Deadline on Halcovage Surveillance Video
Schuylkill County government faces deadline today to turn over the video footage that purportedly shows Commissioner George Halcovage scaling an embankment next to the Courthouse.
The County lost a Right to Know appeal from the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records about a month ago. OOR ordered the County to hand over the video within 30 days to Ringtown resident Doug Litwhiler who filed the original Right to Know request with the County.
Schuylkill County denied Litwhiler originally but the outspoken Ringtowner filed an appeal to the higher authority at the OOR. The County can appeal this decision in a county court but must do so Thursday.
Schuylkill County Must Turn Over Halcovage Video Today or Appeal
The County doesn’t deny that there is video surveillance footage showing Halcovage scaling an earthen embankment from Laurel Boulevard in Pottsville to the Courthouse annex entrance. But the reason the County has been reluctant to turn it over to the public, namely Litwhiler, is because they say it compromises Courthouse security.
In overruling the County’s appeal, the Office of Open Records basically called that ludicrous.
“There is no evidence of what is depicted within the video and how that would threaten public safety or building security. It is also unclear how an individual could identify or take advantage of vulnerabilities within courthouse security just by viewing the video,” Open Records states in its Final Determination issued on Oct. 6.
The County also said the video shouldn’t be released because it relates to a non-criminal investigation.
“Lying in a Cluster of Trees”
Of course, the reason we’re even talking about video footage of a man scaling an embankment, allegedly in a suit, is because critics of Halcovage believe the video shows him doing this to meet with two of his alleged victims of sexual harassment.
They say the video shows Halcovage scaling the wall and turning away from the Courthouse entrance instead of going to it, as he allegedly claimed he was doing.
Again, the County doesn’t dispute that this video definitely exists. In fact, in trying to get the Open Records office to deny Litwhiler’s appeal, Sheriff Joe Groody says that a county employee approached him to report that they spotted Halcovage “lying in a cluster of trees and watching them on a bank near where they were sitting in of the employee’s vehicles.”
Groody says he reviewed the video and passed a copy of it to County Administrator Gary Bender so he could conduct a “non-criminal investigation” of Halcovage.
However, OOR says no investigation was ever conducted.
“The County’s affidavit generally refers to an “investigation” stating that the video was reviewed to determine veracity of a complaint. However, the County does not provide any evidence demonstrating that a “systematic or searching inquiry” was conducted pursuant to its legislatively granted fact-finding and investigative powers, nor that the video relates to such an investigation,” OOR wrote in its determination. “The County has not demonstrated that a noncriminal investigation occurred, and, additionally, the County fails to explain under what authority an investigation occurred.”
Release or Appeal
So, the County could just make this video public by sharing it with Litwhiler on Thursday. Or it could decide to try its argument in the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas. That would put the County through costly litigation — at the taxpayer’s expense – and potentially just prolong the inevitable if the case is lost there, too.
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Photo: License purchased via Depositphotos.com
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