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Middletown Police Officer Suspended After Attending Church On Duty

Officer Mark Hovan was suspended by his chief after going to his church service while on duty.

Middletown, PA – Middletown Police Officer Mark Hovan has been suspended for 10 days after going to church while on duty.

The Borough Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday, Dec. 5, to approve the suspension of Officer Hovan, which was recommended by Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette, according to PennLive.

Officer Hovan, who is a 20-year veteran of the agency, told PennLive that he went to church twice in November, in uniform and while on duty, at Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church. Hovan said he was always available for calls, and believes he didn’t violate any department procedures.

He said prior police chiefs had encouraged him to attend church for community policing, and former officers have attended church while on duty without repercussions. Officer Hovan said he had to attend Mass while working because he couldn’t make it at other times.

Officer Hovan believes the action violates his religious freedom, and said he was considering taking legal action. He said that he had been attending church while on duty for 20 years, and that he had never missed a call for service because he was in church.

He said he went to church in uniform on a Sunday morning in January, after which Chief Mouchette sent him a letter of reprimand and told him he was no longer allowed to do that.

Officer Hovan said he also attended mass on August 15, a holy day, after which an internal investigation was begun. A disciplinary hearing for neglect of duty was held on Nov. 7, and that led to the Council’s vote on Tuesday.

Middletown Police Chief George Mouchette, who became Interim Chief on January 17, said that Officer Hovan was not disciplined for attending church, but for violating a direct order.

In an email sent to Press&Journal on Friday, Chief Mouchette said that Officer Hovan had previously been advised that if his spiritual obligations “required” he attend church while on duty, he could request “appropriate time off to attend.”

Chief Mouchette said Officer Hovan never asked for time off to attend church.

In a previous interview with the Press&Journal, Officer Hovan said that his constitutional right to practice freedom of religion was being “infringed” by Chief Mouchette. He said “they (the department) made no accommodation at all for me.”

Officer Hovan told the Press&Journal that Chief Mouchette had given him a letter in January which said he could no longer attend church while on duty, and that Hovan was to “never conduct personal business on Middletown Police Department time.”

He said that an internal investigation was started by another officer at the agency after he attended church again in August, and that Chief Mouchette had called him and asked him if he was on church, and he said yes.

On October 27, Officer Hovan said he received a letter from Chief Mouchette which detailed four charges of Neglect of Duty/Insufficiency.

One charge said that Officer Hovan refused to obey proper orders from a superior. The second charge said that Officer Hovan failed “to properly supervise subordinates, or to prefer disciplinary charges, or to take other appropriate disciplinary action.”

The third charge said Officer Hovan failed “to comply with any order directives, regulations, etc., oral or written and also those of a superior.”

The fourth charge cites Officer Hovan’s “failure to properly patrol district or sector and make assigned reports to headquarters, unauthorized absence from assignment, failure to respond to radio call.” It refers to Officer Hovan having “an unauthorized absence from your assignment for at least an hour” on Aug. 15.

Three of the four charges refer directly to Officer Hovan’s having attended church on August 15 “while on duty without authorization despite previous written orders that you not attend such services while on duty,” according to Press&Journal.

Chief Mouchette’s letter directed Officer Hovan to attend a meeting on Nov. 7 at 7 a.m. in his office. Officer Hovan said he attended the meeting, and that the police chief’s recommendation for suspension went to the borough council after that.

The no vote for the suspension came from Councilor Robert Reid, former long-term mayor of the borough who had been in charge of the Middletown Police Department for years. He said, “I think there should be some action taken, but I can’t go along with the 10 days.”

Officer Hovan started his career working patrol, then served as a detective and a K9 officer, before serving as chief between June, 2012 and January, 2013, when he resigned that position. No reason was given for his resignation but some said he was unhappy with the way things were going, according to WHTM.

Do you think that the suspension was appropriate? We’d like to hear from you. Please let us know in the comments.

GinnyReed - December Sat, 2017

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