After a single gunshot was heard at Bethlehem Police Headquarters at 9:40 a.m. on December 30, a contingent of officers spent an anxious 20 minutes combing through their own corridors and part of City Hall looking for a shooter or a victim.
According to testimony at a City Council hearing on Monday night, Officer Ken Jones and several other officers drew weapons as they checked men’s and women’s locker rooms and offices off the main corridor at police headquarters; Sgt. Paul Feliceangeli readied a rifle in case officers had to deal with a perpetrator at long range.
Among those participating in the search and security in the early minutes after the shot was Officer Jeffrey Rogers, who department officials accuse of accidentally firing the shot, concealing it and lying about it to superiors.
City Council listened to about two hours of testimony during a hearing to determine Rogers’ future with the department. Department Commissioner Jason Schiffer is asking council to fire Rogers. Council is expected to render a decision at its November 1 meeting.
Rogers, a 58-year-old, 17-year veteran of the Bethlehem Police Department, was not at his own termination hearing. A letter from his attorney, which was read into the record at the start of the hearing, indicated that Rogers intends to challenge his city discipline in federal court, where he has already filed suit.
City Solicitor Jack Spirk told council that the administration was prepared to allow Rogers to retire with a disability pension after the city pension board approved his request in July. However, under the deal the city struck with Rogers, the retiring officer was to sign an agreement not to sue the city. When he failed to do that, the city resumed termination proceedings, Spirk said.
Rogers had at one point claimed that the gun incident was the result of a medical condition – incontinence resulting from a prostatectomy. In the federal filing, he claims that he is fit to return to work and is being forced by the city to accept a disability pension, Spirk told council.
According to testimony, Rogers, on duty in patrol division that day, came to headquarters in the middle of his shift to use the men’s room in the police locker area. When he got there, he took his service weapon, a Glock 23 .40 caliber handgun, out of its holster. He put the holster in a sink, then took the gun and hung it, by its trigger guard, from a hook inside the stall he was using.
When he was ready to leave the stall, he grabbed the gun, which fired when the stall hook pushed the trigger. The bullet penetrated the drop ceiling in men’s room but never made it through to the first floor of City Hall.
Det. Robert Toronzi, the department’s weapons instructor, testified Rogers failed to follow proper procedures. The weapon should have remained in its holster and the holster should have been placed in Rogers’ locker, while he used the men’s room.
While failing to follow weapons procedure and accidentally firing his gun was potentially catastrophic and would have warranted discipline, Schiffer testified that he would not be seeking termination for Rogers had the officer not lied about what happened.
Sgt. Scott Felchock testified that he directly asked Rogers – less than an hour after the incident – if he knew what happened in the locker room and Rogers told him that he did not. Rogers did not admit what happened until more than two hours later, when superiors called him back to the station for the second time that day, Felchock testified.
Schiffer said Rogers lied to “cover up a use of force. His actions were designed to cover that up to his sergeant and up to the higher levels of the police department.”
Asked Spirk: “If he had come out of the locker room and said ‘Guys, it was me. My bad.’ Would we be here?”
“Absolutely not,” Schiffer said. “Absolutely not.”