Two arrests this week of public employees on sexual misconduct charges brings home the reality of #MeToo to the Pittsburgh region.
First came word that Jim Sheppard, an analyst in the office of County Controller Chelsa Wagner, was arrested on charges of harassment, stalking, and related crimes in regard to his ex-boyfriend. Sheppard had previously been arrested in February 2017 for an incident involving shoving his ex against a table. Those earlier charges were dropped when the survivor did not pursue the matter. In the more recent charges, he has filed charges.
The second incident involves former Leechburg Chief of Police Mike Diebold facing charges of sexually soliciting a police officer posing as a 14 year old girl. Diebold gained public fame after losing his arm in a fireworks accident and struggling to get his job back with the police department. Authorities say Diebold “stated that he has been utilizing the internet to post ads in the personal sections for the last several years.”
In both cases, these are not isolated incidents.
Chelsa Wagner’s office has put Sheppard on unpaid leave in spite of the earlier charges involving physical assault. Wagner’s office is also home to known domestic abuser Kevin Quigley who has faced multiple allegations and warnings. At first, I thought Sheppard’s crimes might not be taken seriously because they involve same-sex domestic violence. Now I guess it just means Controller Wagner doesn’t take domestic violence seriously enough to take swift action in support of survivors. That’s disappointing, but not shocking. Men do it all of the time.
This is what happens when #MeToo hits home, exposing the dark secrets of men we know and, perhaps, like and trust even admire. Living in the shadow of the Catholic Church exposure and the Penn State Jerry Sandusky scandal, this should shock no one. Since time began, people have protected violent predators and slimy abusers.
Sheppard is a long-time board member of the Delta Foundation and has been deeply involved in Steel City Stonewall Democrats. My own history with him is uncomfortable and exasperating, but even I was disappointed by these charges. I hope Delta, Steel City, and Controller Wagner will do what’s best for the community and cut ties with Sheppard. He has to decide how to become a better person, but not while holding any degree of power or influence over public or community resources.
I might add that fellow Delta board member Marty Healey threw his hat into the ring for City Council District 8, a seat also sought by Sonja Finn and Erika Strassburger. The ties to Sheppard via Delta and Steel City do not reflect well on his judgment and associations. If Sheppard doesn’t cut ties, Healey sure should.
As for Diebold, what is there to say? He admitted he’s been trolling personal sites for a long time, so this is not tied to injuries sustained in his recent fireworks accident. If anything the damaged hubris psyche that led him to try to sexually solicit a young girl is part of what led him to such a risky hobby.
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I hope Leechburg officials will take swift action to support young women who may have been harmed by the Chief, on or off the job. They need to be transparent in investigating and providing resources to the community. We have no way of knowing right now if other young women answered his previous ads. We have no way of knowing what happened when the popular Chief was alone with young women. We have no way of knowing how long or deep the harm runs.
There’s a lot of work to be done before ‘healing’ can begin or moving forward can commence. How thorough is the background check on public employees in Leechburg? What training do they receive? Is the municipality connected with a solid anti-violence organization? And the same questions should be asked in every municipality in Pennsylvania.
How often do these crimes have to be reported before leaders recognize that there is a problem that requires a systemic response, not calls for unity? We can’t hold the County Controller to a standard that we don’t hold the Mayor and Borough Council of Leechburg. And vice versa.
I can readily admit that I am in no way unbiased on this reporting. My history as a survivor, my history of coping with Sheppard, my history working for domestic violence agencies, even my histories with Chelsa Wagner, Steel City Stonewall, and the Delta Foundation leave me far from a neutral third-party.
But my bias informs my response, too. I know that these are rarely isolated incidents. There are lots of best practices out there to protect the public when an employee makes horrifying choices. There are multiple examples – think Catholic Church and Penn State – on how not to respond.
Culpability is a tricky bastard.
I take heart that women like Darieth Chisholm and Natalia Rudiak have spoken out about their own experiences with harassment, stalking, and abuse. Many, many others in this region have done the same. And whether the perpetrator is an intimate partner of the same or opposite sex, a date, a stranger, a family member, etc – we must continue to empower individuals to say #MeToo and ensure that we stand with survivors.
If you or someone you love has experienced harassment or other sexual misconduct, please reach out for the support you deserve. The Center for Victims is one such resource: 1-866-644-2882
This post has been updated to clarify that Jim Sheppard resigned as the President of Steel City Stonewall Democrats in January 2016. His most current membership (2017) lapsed as of January 1, 2018 and SCSD could not confirm if he would renew or if a grace period was in effect.
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