In February, six Bristol Township police officers stopped for a 2 a.m. nightcap at the 7C Lounge, the bar attached to the Fraternal Order of Police local’s headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia. There, they got to talking with another patron, who complained about being pulled over years ago by one of their colleagues.
The man couldn’t remember the name of the officer, so the cops helped him, suggesting who it might have been, based on a description provided. Then, sources familiar with the investigation say, they gave the man the officer’s personal cellphone number, and watched him leave harassing voice mails and text messages. When the officer, off-duty and at home, finally picked up, the caller threatened his life, and knew the name of the street he lived on with his wife.
Now, two of the officers who egged on the caller have been fired, and the four others who witnessed it have been suspended, according to township officials, who confirmed the details of the incident but declined to release the officers’ names. All six have filed grievances with the township to try to reverse the discipline, and their union says the call was a simple prank.
Neil Morris, a labor attorney working with Bristol Township, said the punishment was appropriate.
“The township is very concerned that an officer’s private contact information was given out to someone else for absolutely no reason,” said Morris, an attorney with the Center City firm Offit Kurman. “And the officer was then victimized by that person and the officers who were manipulating that person.”
Richard Poulson, legal counsel for the Bristol Township Police Benevolent Association, said Tuesday that the grievances against the township are in their early stages, and will likely take months to resolve. He characterized the calls and texts as “a prank that has been blown out of proportion” by the township.
The call and subsequent investigation took place in February, with the officers being disciplined in late July, sources said. Both came to light this week, first reported by Tom Sofield, who runs the news site Levittown Now.
Law enforcement sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation said the officer who received the calls filed a police report when he reported for work hours later. At the time, he had no idea that his coworkers had been involved.
Detectives in Bristol Township traced the phone number used to contact the officer to the man the other officers had encountered at the bar, the sources said. He agreed to an interview, and explained how he had gotten the officer’s contact information.
As it turned out, the sources said, he had been given the wrong information: The officer he had called was not the one who had pulled him over.
The six officers involved also agreed to interviews and admitted to giving the man their coworker’s number, but said they didn’t hear him make any threats to the officer, the sources said.
Neither Bristol Township Police Chief Robert Coulton nor Bristol Township Manager Randee Elton returned calls for comment.
Prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges.
Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said he made the decision after being contacted by township officials investigating the incident.
“While, reprehensible, inexcusable, and callous, the officers’ accused of this conduct lacked criminal intent, and therefore no crime was committed,” Weintraub said in a statement.