As of Thursday, Bradford City Police Chief Hiel Bartlett’s status with the city changed to an unpaid leave.
City Administrator Chris Lucco confirmed this Friday, with a brief statement: “The investigation is still ongoing. However, as of yesterday, Chief Bartlett’s status has changed to unpaid.”
There was no change to the status of Officer Matt Gustin, Lucco stated. He remains on paid leave.
Bartlett, who was named chief by Mayor James McDonald in January, earns $70,181 annually in that position.
When contacted by The Era, McDonald reiterated Lucco’s statement.
“I cannot say anything more than what Mr. Lucco has already stated regarding Chief Bartlett being moved to ‘unpaid leave’ status and Officer Gustin remaining on paid administrative leave,”the mayor said. “I can, however, promise that I will release an all-encompassing statement once the investigation is concluded.”
Bartlett and Gustin had been on paid administrative leave since shortly after the May 5 arrest of Matthew Confer on Delaware Avenue in the city. A bystander videotaped part of the arrest and made a complaint to city officials, alleging misconduct by the officers.
Confer was being placed under arrest for a reported domestic incident. He allegedly ran from officers and was tased.
When Gustin attempted to put Confer in the patrol car, Confer allegedly struggled with them before being taken to the ground and subdued.
He was placed in the patrol car, at which point, according to the criminal complaint, he continued to kick at the officers. Bartlett sprayed him with mace “to stop the aggression and comply” with the officers, the complaint stated.
A bystander posted a video to social media, showing the last part of the incident. After members of the public saw the video, several reached out to city officials, concerned about the conduct of Bartlett and Gustin.
While Confer had first been charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer later withdrew those charges after reviewing the case.
Community member Jake Mott started an online petition demanding that Bartlett be fired. And during protests in Bradford, Mott and others called for the same.
Mott appeared before Bradford City Council to present the petition and argue for Bartlett’s dismissal, alleging a history of aggressiveness and excessive force.
John Bartlett, a cousin to the embattled chief, presented a petition in support of Bartlett to the council as well. He implored city council members to “side with truth and facts” and not with “video and conjecture and mob rule.”
Since the May 5 incident, Confer has been arrested twice more, once for allegedly attempting to break into cars and the second time for allegedly assaulting a guard at the McKean County Jail. The assault allegation was withdrawn by the alleged victim.
Assistant Police Chief Mike Ward is serving as acting police chief for the City of Bradford.
Meanwhile, the chief detective with the McKean County district attorney’s office has been conducting an investigation into the credibility of Bartlett and Gustin, as is required by the District Attorneys Association.
District Attorney Stephanie Vettenburg-Shaffer explained her office is “responsible for ensuring the integrity of criminal complaints filed, and testimony presented in court to allow a judge or jury to make a decision in a case.
“This type of investigation concludes with a determination of honesty or dishonesty,” she explained. “This investigation is nearing completion.”
Shaffer said that because her office works with both officers, any allegation of criminal wrongdoing was referred to the state police in Punxsutawney.
“Any other allegations that my office has received have been referred to the attorney general’s office,” she said.
She did not elaborate on what other allegations might be.