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Girardville News

Girardville’s Former Top Cop Sues Borough With Shocking Claims

Lawsuit was filed in 2023 but is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the borough’s police issues.

There are some shocking claims made in a 2023 federal lawsuit filed by Girardville’s former top cop against the borough and its officials.

Fabrizio Bivona claims in his lawsuit that Girardville’s former Mayor Judith Melhbaum attempted to force him to perform illegal search and seizures against private citizens in the borough.

He further claims that Mehlbaum essentially wanted him to be her personal security force to root out residents, her neighbors, that bothered her.

And when Bivona tried to call Mehlbaum out for this alleged illegal activity, including fraud and waste, he says he was suspended from his job and ultimately fired. Bivona also says he attempted to report unlawful activities by other Girardville police officers and was met with similar actions.

The lawsuit also alleges that the borough is trying to link issues it had with maintaining its police evidence room, prior to his hiring, to him.

Bivona also says that Mehlbaum gave false information to local news sources regarding his title within the police force as a means of disparaging him.

These alleged actions and the lawsuit are basically the tip of the iceberg that led Girardville’s borough officials to suspend its police force in May of this year.

Fabrizio Bivona v. Girardville

Here is a look at the details of the claims made in this lawsuit currently filed in US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The lawsuit was filed on July 11, 2023.

Bivona has named his former employer – the Borough Council and its Police Committee – its former Mayor, Judith Mehlbaum, and former councilman Edward Burns as defendants. Burns and Mehlbaum resigned earlier this year, according to a report from The Shenandoah Sentinel.

Burns is never mentioned in claims made in the lawsuit.

Back Story

girardville pa police

Bivona was hired as Girardville’s Police Chief/Officer-in-Charge back on March 4, 2022. He continued in that job until he was fired on Jan. 12, 2023.

According to statements in the lawsuit, Bivona is a police officer with 19 years of experience and originally worked in Hawley, Wayne County, back in 2004.

He says the false claims made against him by Mehlbaum and his termination from his job in Girardville have essentially ended his career in law enforcement.

Mehlbaum resigned this year, citing personal and health reasons, according to The Shenandoah Sentinel.

Here’s a look at specific incidents Bivona says led to his termination in Girardville:

“Take care of that for me.”

Within two months of starting his job as the top cop in Girardville, Bivona says he was approached by Mehlbaum about her neighbors.

Mehlbaum reportedly referred to these neighbors as “meth heads” and told Bivona to “take care of that for me,” the lawsuit claims.

Bivona says he asked Mehlbaum if there was any indication that her neighbors were breaking the law and if so, told her to file a written complaint.

He says Mehlbaum initially refused to file a written complaint and ordered him to go to her neighbors’ home and use his police powers to harass them. She told him that she wanted “them gone.”

Bivona further asserts that Mehlbaum also referred to some citizens as “dirtbags” and “white trash” and told him to go to their home and “get rid of them.”

He believes it was Mehlbaum’s intent to harass neighbors she didn’t like until they were forced to leave Girardville. Bivona claims at least one family did in response to the alleged harassment.

When Bivona didn’t follow Mehlbaum’s orders, she allegedly told him, “This is what we pay you for,” and said, “What are we paying you for?”

Eventually, Bivona claims, Mehlbaum did file a written complaint and it was for a dog barking.

Bivona said he did respond to that complaint from the former mayor but when he arrived at the home, there was a dog but it wasn’t barking. He said the dog was inside an enclosure at the time and left with only issuing a verbal warning about the dog barking.

Mehlbaum then followed up with Bivona about his response to the complaint and he told her that there was no barking dog and there was no basis for filing a criminal complaint.

This allegedly annoyed Mehlbaum and again she asked, “What are we paying you for?”

He further claims in his lawsuit that Mehlbaum asked him and other officers to harass other people in the borough she considered undesirable, calling them “druggies” and “trash” and “white trash”.

Bivona says Mehlbaum targeted people based on race, too, including Hispanic residents of Girardville.

If he didn’t do it, Mehlbaum turned to Talanca

Bivona also claims in his lawsuit that when he refused to follow Mehlbaum’s orders that he deemed unconstitutional and illegal, the mayor turned to another officer on the Girardville roster at the time, Jeremy Talanca.

Talanca, as an aside, would eventually be promoted to Officer-in-Charge in Girardville. Earlier this year, he was charged with more than 50 counts of fraud over his operation of a car dealership in Berwick.

According to claims made in his lawsuit, Bivona says Talanca was summoned to Mehlbaum’s neighbor’s home on May 9, 2022, “for no reason whatsoever.”

Bivona says Talanca didn’t have a warrant and didn’t receive a call or complaint about the mayor’s neighbors.

He claims in his lawsuit that Talanca and another officer, Brandon Gonzalez, approached the home of the mayor’s neighbors with their guns drawn and entered the home without a warrant.

As this happened, the mayor’s neighbors were in their backyard with family gathered for a barbecue.

One of the grandchildren allegedly told someone at this gathering that they believed someone had broken into their home. The child’s father went into the home and was allegedly confronted in the kitchen by two uniformed men with their guns drawn.

The rest of the family then came into the kitchen and allegedly began questioning why there were police officers in their home with guns drawn.

Talanca and Gonzalez reportedly said they had chased someone in there and were responding to a 9-1-1 call.

A complaint was filed by the family and Bivona says he investigated the claims and reviewed the body cam footage from that incident and determined that Talanca and Gonzalez had violated their civil rights.

Bivona filed a complaint saying that continuing to employ Talanca and Gonzalez “implicated a risk to the public.” But the borough refused to act on his directive.

The family has since filed their own lawsuit against Talanca and Gonzalez.

Her own personal security force

Bivona says this activity continued and Mehlbaum used Talanca to essentially carry out her plan to remove people from the borough. He says Mehlbaum used Talanca as her own personal security force.

In another similar incident, Bivona says the borough attempted to use code enforcement and zoning officers to root out an Hispanic family living on Main St.

On July 28, 2022, Bivona claims he received a report of official misconduct by Talanca, which he deemed credible. He recommended Talanca be arrested for criminal trespass and harassment.

He also claims that he found Talanca in dereliction of duty, insubordinate, and that he failed to perform his duties as a police officer, also that he misused borough vehicles and equipment.

These claims were all ignored by Mehlbaum, he says in the lawsuit.

He also claims Mehlbaum misused the Megan’s Law list of offenders, per the rules of the Pennsylvania State Police. Bivona says the former mayor also illegally used JNET, a police information database, and that Talanca had given her access to it.

A deeper dive on Talanca

As part of his investigation into Talanca and his alleged wrongdoing in Girardville, Bivona says he learned of other past allegations against the officer.

Bivona says he learned that Talanca was charged with assault and attempted to flee police as part of a domestic incident.

He was also relieved of his duty as Police Chief in Sugar Notch, Luzerne County, and was allegedly prohibited from being a cop in that county over allegations of gross police misconduct.

Talanca also allegedly targeted a member of Sugar Notch Borough Council and filed two false charges against him, Bivona says in his lawsuit. And he also allegedly fabricated evidence and made false statements about a police shootout there.

Bivona says he reported all his findings on Talanca but Girardville officials ignored him.

Misinformation allegations

Right after he was hired, Mehlbaum allegedly notified Pennsylvania State Police and the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission of Bivona’s appointment as Chief/Officer-in-Charge in Girardville.

But Bivona says the borough is trying to claim that he was never named “chief” and that he falsely represented himself as such to the public, including news media.

Bivona provides an email purportedly written in reply to Mehlbaum’s message from MPOETC congratulating him on his appointment as Chief/Officer-in-Charge.

He also says Mehlbaum handwrote on official Girardville letterhead that Bivona had been sworn in as Officer-in-Charge/Chief of the borough’s police force.

But on Jan. 11, 2023, a day before he was officially fired, in an article appearing on The Shenandoah Sentinel, Mehlbaum is quoted as saying, “He was never the chief.” Bivona says Mehlbaum was intentionally providing false statements to the media by making this claim.

In another alleged instance of this same thing happening, the Republican Herald cites a letter from Solicitor Arlen Day that informed Bivona on Dec. 30, 2022, that he was being suspended for falsely representing himself as Girardville’s Police Chief.

Girardville’s Response to Bivona Lawsuit

This case remains tied up in federal court and is crawling along.

Girardville is filing a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Here are the primary reasons outlined in their motion:

  1. Punitive Damages: The motion argues that punitive damages sought by the plaintiff against the Borough are not allowable under §1983, referencing a precedent where punitive damages are not available against a municipality.
  2. Equal Protection Claims: It is argued that the plaintiff has not provided a plausible allegation that he was treated differently from others similarly situated, which is necessary for an equal protection claim under the Constitution.
  3. First Amendment Claims: The defendants assert that the plaintiff’s claims related to the First Amendment must be dismissed because his speech did not constitute a matter of public concern as required for such claims.
  4. Fourth and Fifth Amendments: The motion argues that the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate any unlawful search or seizure (Fourth Amendment) and incorrectly applied the Fifth Amendment, which pertains to federal actors, not local or state actors like the defendants.
  5. Fourteenth Amendment and Due Process: The defendants claim that even if the plaintiff had a property interest in his job, his termination was conducted with due process, making the claims under the Fourteenth Amendment invalid.
  6. Claims under Federal and State Laws: The motion contends that several of the plaintiff’s claims under various federal statutes and Pennsylvania state laws (such as wrongful termination, whistleblower retaliation, and racial discrimination) fail to meet the legal standards for plausibility and sufficiency, often due to lack of specific allegations or failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Jj

    June 26, 2024 at 7:38 pm

    Bivona is a pathological liar. Why would he drive, everyday, to a part time job when he lives in NJ? BECAUSE he was shady in his own area and probably fired from every job. I know the Girardville mayor personally for over 35 years and she would never, in a million years, act the way Bovina is claiming. I met him one time and instantly got bad vibes from him. I spoke with other officers too who said he is no good.

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