Stedman at budget hearing

District Attorney Craig Stedman discusses drug task force funding at a Lancaster County budget planning meeting Oct. 29, 2019.

"Despicable" and "manipulative" were some of the terms thrown around by both District Attorney Craig Stedman and the Lancaster County Commissioners at an uncharacteristically hostile county meeting Tuesday.

The two sides butted heads over the Lancaster County Drug Task Force, its past operations and future funding. The exchange came during a routine budget planning meeting for 2020.

Stedman said the task force is facing a immediate funding crisis and called on the three elected county commissioners to develop solutions, including more money from county taxpayers. The commissioners raised questions about Stedman's use of seized assets and said they preferred to wait until a new district attorney is elected next week before discussing a more permanent funding model.

DTF funding

The Drug Task Force is made up of detectives and municipal police officers who are assigned to temporary duty with the unit, which focuses on drug trafficking. In September, four officers were returned to their home departments due to a lack of funding, leaving eight municipal officers and three county detectives.

The task force is currently funded by a mix of voluntary municipal contributions, county funds, and monies seized in civil asset forfeiture.

Stedman told commissioners the funding model needed to change to rely on more funding from the county. He pointed to newspaper articles from the past decade where he had raised the task force's financial problems.

"How many times do I have to hit you over the head with this," Stedman said. "You read the newspaper, you see I've been calling for drug task force reform."

Republican Commissioner Dennis Stuckey said he didn't think the current model was fair, but that the municipalities need to bear some of the funding burden.

"These are your communities," he said. "I will not vote to fund (the task force) completely out of county tax dollars because not all of your communities participate and give money to the drug task force... I don't know what the solution is, but you're going to have to put some skin in the game."

Democratic Commissioner Craig Lehman said he no longer felt Stedman had standing to discuss the topic, and listed a series of instances dating back to last October's budget hearing in which he said the district attorney had the opportunity to discuss funding, but did not, opting instead to make public and private remarks deriding the commissioners’ handling of the issue.

"At best (these actions) are political, at worst they are manipulative," Lehman said. "As a result DA Stedman has zero credibility with me on this matter.” Lehman called it a “sadder chapter” in his time as a commissioner.

About two dozen police chiefs and municipal leaders attended also spoke during the meeting, with some urging the commissioners to find a new funding mechanism other than the 1992 agreement between the board and the municipalities.

Stedman said that voluntary contribution model was doomed to fail from the onset.

SUV lease

Stedman and the commissioners also discussed spending of civil forfeiture monies, which support the task force, including discussion of Stedman's lease of a 2016 Toyota Highlander.

Stedman has said the vehicle was not just for his use but also for the task force, but the head of the unit, John Burkhart, admitted the car was not used by the task force until after it was publicly disclosed.

LNP first reported on the vehicle in March.

During the meeting Lancaster County Controller Brian Hurter was called on to speak about the vehicle. He said that at the time he signed a "certified resolution and incumbency certificate to lease or finance" for the vehicle he did not know the vehicle would be used by Stedman personally and assumed it was for the drug task force fleet. Stedman has referenced the incumbency certificate as proof that the county knew of the car and that the lease of the vehicle was proper.