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Feud between officials simmers in Bucks County

Bristol Township has for decades been one of Bucks County's most troubled places, home to racial tensions, a struggling economy, and corruption investigations.

Bristol Township has for decades been one of Bucks County's most troubled places, home to racial tensions, a struggling economy, and corruption investigations.

History apparently is repeating itself.

In a dispute that recalls past power struggles between local officials and police, Bristol Township's manager is in a bitter feud with the cops and the county's chief law enforcement officer.

It began last year as an investigation by Township Manager William McCauley into what he called a potential DUI cover-up by police. But it has morphed into a full-on war of words with county District Attorney David Heckler.

Last month, for example, McCauley filed an unusual legal document that took direct shots at Heckler's integrity.

In response, Heckler compared McCauley, in an interview, to a horse's rear end. And the head of the township's police union - which recently sued McCauley over his authority to hire and fire police leadership - said the beef has only weakened their relationship.

A Bucks County judge is considering McCauley's request to quash a grand jury report that was released six months ago by Heckler and was searingly critical of McCauley.

Legal experts say there is no precedent for quashing a document that is already public, and they doubt that McCauley's efforts will provide him absolution.

But McCauley is steadfast in his belief that Heckler's report was wrong, and is mounting his case using taxpayer dollars, saying his manager's contract entitles him to a legal defense.

History of strife

Bristol Township, a hardscrabble community of 55,000 residents, has a long history of strife.

In the 1980s, township officials suspended Police Chief John Tegzes after the arrest of two township commissioners; one for allegedly accepting a bribe, the other for allegedly falsifying campaign finance reports.

The courts had to reinstate Tegzes twice. He eventually got $225,000 in damages.

The state has also investigated the school district twice, once after race riots in the 1970s and again in the mid-2000s after police brought in dogs to stop an anticipated fight between black and white students.

A former mayor, Anthony Cipullo, was jailed in the 1990s for accepting kickbacks to influence bids on a township insurance policy.

In the 2000s, a former township manager, Suzanne Newsome, doctored her contract to get $14,000 in unused sick time. One council member, Kevin Gilroy, stole $25,000 from the local Democratic Party. Another, Karen Lipsack, got house arrest for threatening another council member.

Months-long clash

The current dispute revolves largely around a grand jury report that was released in February, following allegations by McCauley that police had covered up an off-duty colleague's DUI.

The officer in question, Kevin Burns, crashed his truck into a parked car after a night of drinking. A beer can fell out of the truck. But the responding officers allowed Burns to get a ride home from a friend without undergoing a field sobriety test.

McCauley hired an outside attorney to investigate. But Heckler subsequently ordered McCauley to stand aside, saying he was not qualified to probe the incident on his own.

The resulting grand jury report found no fault among the police officers but ripped into McCauley.

"If William McCauley is able to make allegations of police misconduct without having a shred of evidence to support his false claims, he lacks that fundamental integrity necessary to serve as township manager," the report said.

In last month's filing, McCauley claims the report went beyond the investigation's scope, with the District Attorney's Office influencing its conclusions to protect fellow law enforcers.

McCauley also alleged that two county detectives may have violated grand jury secrecy rules by interacting with jurors during deliberations.

"The grand jury report is riddled with emotionally charged language and pejoratives which demonstrate the hostility of the jurors toward Mr. McCauley," McCauley's filing said. "Hostility does not spring from the air; like hate, it needs to be taught."

Heckler denied McCauley's claims.

The state's grand jury statute doesn't provide for any procedures to quash a public grand jury report as McCauley desires, said Judith Ritter, a professor at Widener University's Delaware School of Law.

And even if it did, she said, it might never afford him a fully clean slate.

"A problem here is that it's been part of the public record for a long time," she said. "It's not as though quashing it would have no value, but obviously less value."