Pennsylvania Chief Charged With Felony Eavesdropping

A fire chief in Pennsylvania who abruptly resigned earlier this month has been charged with secretly recording conversations in violation of the state’s eavesdropping law, a felony.

Fire Chief Christopher B. Angell of the Bradford City Fire Department reportedly had been recording conversations with various city officials, including the police chief, without their knowledge. The recordings were made between May 6, 2011 and December 31, 2013.

The recordings were discovered on January 3, 2015 by two firefighters who were reportedly in the chief’s office …“looking for a calculator”……. They naturally listened to the recordings, recognized the voices, and dutifully reported the matter to Bradford City Police. Because Police Chief Chris Lucco was considered a “victim” of the illegal recordings, the investigation was turned over to McKean County Sheriffs Office.

Chief Angell was arraigned yesterday on one felony count and released on $5,000 bail without surety. Pennsylvania is an “all-party” consent state, meaning that to lawfully record “wire, electronic or oral” communications the consent of all parties to the conversation be aware that it is being recorded . Oral communications are protected only when the speaker possesses an expectation that the “communication is not subject to interception” and/or being recorded.

Here is the statute:

18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5702 defines “Oral communication” as “Any oral communication uttered by a person possessing an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation. The term does not include any electronic communication.

18 Pa.C.S.A § 5703. Interception, disclosure or use of wire, electronic or oral communications

Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, a person is guilty of a felony of the third degree if he:

(1) intentionally intercepts, endeavors to intercept, or procures any other person to intercept or endeavor to intercept any wire, electronic or oral communication;

(2) intentionally discloses or endeavors to disclose to any other person the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, electronic or oral communication; or

(3) intentionally uses or endeavors to use the contents of any wire, electronic or oral communication, or evidence derived therefrom, knowing or having reason to know, that the information was obtained through the interception of a wire, electronic or oral communication.

The Bradford Era quoted Police Chief Chris Lucco as saying:

  • “Having been in law enforcement for nearly twenty years, I have developed an acute awareness and understanding of the need to empathize with victims of crimes.”.
  • “Unfortunately this incident has put me in that same place as a victim. The violation and invasion I have personally experienced as a result of (Chris) Angell’s actions will be something that I will struggle to understand for years to come”
  • “As both a Police Officer and public servant, I was compelled to bring this felonious act to light and allow the legal system a chance to handle it accordingly. As a private citizen however, I also feel I had the right to feel secure in my speech and actions during a private, professional conversation between myself and a co-worker in my own office within the police station.”
  • “I felt that as the Chief of Police I needed to make a statement in regards to this incident, so I may attempt to put to rest any accusations of wrongdoing or questions to my integrity. As I expected, there was nothing on the recordings that would cast negative light on me or my department. Furthermore, I was certain from the moment I learned of the incidents that at no time would there be anything that would call into question my ethics, integrity or professionalism. The reason this incident was pursued was based solely on the ethical violation and invasion of mine and the other victim’s privacy.”

While Chief Lucco is rightly claiming “victim” status, it should be pointed out that Chief Angell’s actions would have been perfectly legal in 40 of the 50 United States. Unethical… that’s another story.

Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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