Weatherly officer accused of using dope that was evidence.
For months, police officers in Weatherly complained of drugs that had been seized from suspects and then disappeared, of the unmistakable reek of marijuana smoke in the office and of finding pipes and other paraphernalia left in a desk drawer.
The target of their complaints was their boss — Police Chief Brian Cara. On Wednesday, he was arrested by state authorities and accused of using seized drugs while on duty.
Cara, 38, of West Hazleton, who has been chief in the Carbon County borough of about 2,600 for 10 years, sometimes started smoking marijuana a half-hour after coming to work at 7 a.m., and once took a marijuana-filled pipe with him on patrol, officials said. One time, during a "reverse sting," state agents videotaped him taking eight "hits" off a pipe in his office.
Suspected marijuana and cocaine also disappeared from evidence, preventing officers from filing charges against suspects from whom the drugs were seized, state Attorney General Jerry Pappert said.
Cara was charged after a 13-month investigation by drug agents from Pappert's Bureau of Narcotics Investigation.
Cara faces one count each of obstructing justice, criminal attempt to obstruct justice, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, all misdemeanors.
He was arraigned by District Edward Lewis in Jim Thorpe and released on his own recognizance.
Cara has been suspended with pay since early August when, Pappert said, agents searched his office and seized drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Cara did not return a message left on his home telephone answering machine seeking comment. But, according to court papers, Cara admitted to state drug agents that he had smoked marijuana removed from the department's evidence locker.
Weatherly Mayor Joseph E. D'Andrea said Cara may be placed on unpaid suspension while charges are pending.
"We're not his judge and jury, but we can't continue paying him and filling in for him at his salary," D'Andrea said. "I was really shocked to find out everything he was supposed to have done. If he has had problems and needed help, we could have helped him."
Pappert said the investigation began in September 2003 after officers in Cara's own department complained about drug evidence that was missing or tampered with. Their complaints dated to 2002.
Four officers testified before a state grand jury sitting in Dauphin County about Cara's alleged drug activity in the department, which has three full-time and six part-time officers.
The officers' concerns led agents to place a camera in the Weatherly police station and carry out the reverse sting.
The sting was executed Aug. 2 when a cooperating Weatherly officer placed 2 ounces of marijuana in the office and told Cara about it when Cara arrived for duty at 7 a.m.
According to a grand jury presentment, state drug Agent Janene M. Miller saw Cara smoke some of the sting marijuana that day.
Cara was videotaped smoking marijuana in the office on Aug. 2, 3 and 4, according to the presentment.
Miller told the grand jury she watched Cara smoke marijuana from a pipe eight times on Aug. 3.
Agent Joseph Miller told the grand jury he watched Cara arrive at the police station Aug. 4 and, an hour later, smoke marijuana from a pipe at 8 a.m.
Joseph Miller told the grand jury that Cara took a second puff from the pipe at 8:02 a.m., a third at 9:06 a.m. and two more at 9:09 a.m.
He said Cara later filled a pipe, put it in his breast pocket and went on patrol.
Cara returned to the office at 10:18 a.m. and took marijuana out of the bags that were planted in the office, Miller said.
Agents on Aug. 4 got a sealed search warrant from Carbon County President Judge Richard W. Webb. According to Pappert, police seized drugs and drug paraphernalia from Cara's desk.
Agents took Cara to Gnaden Huetten Memorial Hospital in Lehighton, where four vials of blood were drawn. Tests showed Cara used marijuana within 48 hours of the blood being drawn, Pappert said.
Pappert said Weatherly officers also testified before the grand jury in September and October 2003 about sealed evidence envelopes containing cocaine that were later discovered open and empty.
Pappert said that at least twice — in February 2003 and October 2003 — Cara told officers the missing cocaine must have ''exploded'' while in the police evidence locker.
On Sept. 8, 2003, part-time Weatherly Patrolman Brian Markovchick testified before a grand jury that he stopped at borough hall to pay a water and sewer bill, then went to the police station.
Markovchick said he banged on the station door because he had forgotten his key, but it took Cara several minutes to open the door from inside the small room.
When Cara did, Markovchick said, he smelled "a very strong odor of burning marijuana."
Markovchick also testified that drug evidence was stored in an unlocked drawer and room and, under Cara's orders, drugs were not sent to a state police crime laboratory for testing.
Officer Gary Veasie told the grand jury he looked through Cara's desk several times and found packages of marijuana that were seized as evidence, a cigarette pack that was emptied and replaced with marijuana, and another pack in which cigarettes were emptied of tobacco and twirled at the end, like a "joint."
He also told the grand jury there were marijuana pipes in the desk.
Veasie also said there was a time when he stopped in Cara's office to pick up his check, and Cara quickly slammed his desk drawer closed and there was a smell of burned marijuana.
In October 2003, Patrolman John Willis told the grand jury he seized cocaine from a car, but Cara decided not to pursue charges. Willis said he went to destroy the cocaine, but found the bag was cut open and the cocaine missing.
He said he told Cara about it, and Cara told him the cocaine exploded. He said he later saw Cara throw away the package.
Willis told the grand jury he suspected Cara of using seized drugs, so he opened Cara's desk and found two packs of cigarettes — one containing cigarettes and the other a bag of marijuana — and a glass pipe.
Willis told the grand jury about a time when an egg carton filled with marijuana was discovered in a rented vehicle. He told the jury that Cara became upset because the man who had rented the vehicle was a friend of his. He said no charges were filed in the case.
In a statement, Patrolman Michael Bogart said a bag of cocaine sealed for evidence had been opened and emptied.
Cara is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Nov. 17 before Lewis. The case will be prosecuted in Carbon County by Senior Deputy Attorney General Lawrence Cherba.
Cara was promoted to chief from patrolman in July 1994 after former Chief Richard Koch stepped down to become a patrolman.
Since Cara was suspended Aug. 4, Patrolman Anthony McFadden has run the department.