The former head of the county’s Drug Task Force, who was fired in March, is contesting his termination and says he was fired for political reasons instead of work performance issues.
John Burkhart was fired March 2 for allegedly falsifying a report and poor managerial skills, according to a February 25 letter from District Attorney Heather Adams.
In the letter she asked Burkhart to attend an employment conference to discuss three issues: his alleged falsification of a report, issues relating to a February 18 search warrant, and problems with his leadership that led to “substantial mishandling of evidence."
But Burkhart says he did not intentionally falsify anything, and the incidents were minor issues used to push him out due to his past support of former district attorney Craig Stedman.
“The events giving rise to Burkhart’s termination were discussed fully with him at an employee conference and were strictly related to personnel issues and nothing beyond that,” Adams said.
Burkhart provided LNP|LancasterOnline with copies of both Adams’ letter and his rebuttal letter. In his letter, Burkhart said the alleged falsification referred to a line he inserted into a detective's report on Friday, January 24. He said he added the line to make it consistent with report of the primary detective -- East Earl police officer Michael Vance.
In an interview, Burkhart said he added the line regarding obtaining separate search warrants for firearms, clicked “approve” in the drug task force's report management system - which he mistakenly assumed he needed to do to exit - and intended to speak to the detective on Monday.
But by Monday, Chief County Detective Kent Switzer told Burkhart an internal investigation was underway. Adams’ February letter said the falsified report made it into the hands of defense counsel, and court records show her office dropped the case.
Burkhart argued he needed to be retrained on the report management system, not fired.
Adams’ second employment issue was a February 18 search warrant. She said drug task force detectives conducted a search warrant without informing local police and they did not wear proper identification, according to Burkhart's letter. Burkhart said he was off the evening of the raid, but placed another detective in charge. (Story continues below ads)
The third item, leadership problems resulting in mishandling of evidence, was a reference to a bag of cocaine Vance left in his desk for nearly 10 months after it was seized in April of 2019, according to Burkhart. Burkhart said Vance told him in September the cocaine had been destroyed, and Burkhart instructed Vance to make a report of its destruction, but the drugs were discovered in Vance's desk during the January internal investigation.
Vance has declined to comment. East Earl Police Chief Kevin McCarthy told LNP|LancasterOnline that Vance was placed on administrative leave in April after the district attorney told him she was referring an investigation of the drug task force to the attorney general's office.
Last week Adams announced she was referring an “internal theft" of approximately $150,000 of drug forfeiture money to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office.
Burkhart, who is challenging his termination with the help of the detectives’ union, said he believes Adams’ reasons to fire him were a pretense for her true motivation -- retaliating against him for critical comments he made of the commissioners during an October 2019 drug task force budget meeting.
He said during meetings with Adams this year, the newly-elected prosecutor asked him why he spoke up at the meetings, and once said to him that she “did not like (his) tone" to the commissioners and reminded him they “are (his) bosses."
The Lancaster County Chiefs of Police Association made a similar claim in a January letter to Commissioner Josh Parsons, accusing him of seeking to retaliate against officers who spoke at the October meeting.
Parsons said in a statement Thursday that the association and now Burkhart are engaged in a misdirection campaign to distract from Stedman and the drug task force's issues.
Parsons said Northern Regional Police Chief David Steffan told him that the association had been "used" by former district attorney Craig Stedman, now a Court of Common Pleas judge, and his allies.
"So one must ask, why was it used," Parsons wrote. "Why was there what now appears to be a campaign of misdirection by some senior members of the law enforcement community?"
Stedman refuted that he used the associated for anything, saying that he had been talking about the task force's funding problems to everyone, including the commissioners, for several years and that it was not a recent attempt at "misdirection."