A daylight homicide cleared with the help of a new piece of technology, a candidate for public office arrested on election night and a warrant sweep that saw nearly 50 people charged with suspected drug dealing; these are just a few of the major stories from the criminal justice system in Cumberland County in 2017.
One of the overarching stories in Cumberland County’s criminal justice system, however, does not involve crime, but rather a change in leadership at local law enforcement agencies.
In March, Taro Landis took over as chief of the Carlisle Police Department following long-time chief Stephen Margeson’s retirement roughly a year earlier. Margeson spent more than 25 years as police chief before his retirement in 2016. He subsequently has come out of retirement and was hired as the police chief for Dickson City in Lackawanna County in early 2017.
Prior to taking over his new job in Carlisle, Landis served for about 30 years in various positions in the Tredyffrin Township Police Department in Chester County. He most recently served as a senior lieutenant with the department.
Now nearly a year into the new role, Landis said he is enjoying being the person in charge.
“When I came here, I said there were a lot of people doing really good things,” he said. “Carlisle is a great place. So far it meets or exceeds my expectations.”
Landis’s first year, however, has not been quiet.
Within his first month, Carlisle Police assisted with a county-wide drug sweep; in May the Republican candidate for mayor of Carlisle, Scott Robinson, was arrested and subdued with a Taser by Carlisle Police as polls were closing on the primary; and in November, 35-year-old Rhyheim Hodge was shot and killed inside his Carlisle home.
The man accused of killing Hodge, 26-year-old Christopher Jaquell Williams, of Harrisburg, was arrested and charged within days of the shooting.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed credited a new Rapid DNA system the county purchased with being able to identify Williams as a suspect by matching blood at the scene to blood taken at a local hospital where Williams went after allegedly suffering a knife wound during the killing.
After Hodge’s death, Landis began hosting community forums to come up with solutions to crime in Carlisle.
Landis has held several events in his first year and has been active in the community, which he said were efforts to open a dialogue between himself and Carlisle residents.
“The people in Carlisle are great,” Landis said. “I enjoy the citizens. I enjoy dealing with people. That’s a lot of fun and interesting. Trying to make a difference is interesting.”
Landis is part of the changing face of the criminal justice system in the county.
In September, Freed, who was district attorney for more than a decade, was nominated for and later confirmed as the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
The resulting vacancy was filled by Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Skip Ebert, who had served as district attorney prior to Freed.
Ebert will serve out the remainder of Freed’s term, which ends in 2019, at which point he would need to run for election for a full term to remain in the position.
The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office has seen at least two other changes to high ranking employees.
First Assistant District Attorney Jaime Keating left and is now working for Franklin County District Attorney Matthew Fogal, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Matthew Smith was scheduled for a deployment in January with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to the Middle East.
Along with Landis and the changes to the district attorney’s office, Camp Hill Police Chief Douglas Hockenberry resigned from his position in December following an arrest for DUI in Perry County.
NEW YORK — In 1960, black students staged sit-ins that forced Woolworth’s to desegregate its lunch counters, and other stores and restaurants followed suit. In 1986, General Motors, Coca-Cola and dozens of other U.S. corporations pulled out of apartheid-era South Africa after years of pressure from activists, college students and investors.
This week, four major retailers slapped restrictions on gun sales that are stronger than federal law.
Those are all rare examples of American companies getting out ahead of the politicians and the law on socially explosive issues. Such decisions are almost always made reluctantly, under huge pressure and with an eye toward minimizing the effect on the bottom line.
The Feb. 14 massacre of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school has set off a response from U.S. businesses unlike any previous mass shooting.
Major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, have cut ties to the National Rifle Association. Walmart, Kroger, L.L. Bean and Dick’s Sporting Goods announced they will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21. Dick’s also banned the sale of assault-style rifles, a step Walmart took in 2015. And Dick’s CEO went even further by calling for tougher gun laws.
Those actions amounted to an act of defiance against the NRA and its allies in Washington who have vehemently opposed any ban on AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons or a higher age limit for gun purchases.
“What we are seeing is a real shift,” said Mimi Chakravorti, executive director of strategy at the brand consulting firm Landor. “I think right now, companies are acting ahead of the government because they are seeing that the changes are too slow.”
Still, business leaders are not exactly leading the charge for the stricter guns laws. Their actions came in response to protests by the students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to growing calls by consumers for boycotts against companies that do business with the NRA or gun manufacturers.
And their decisions didn’t represent much of a sacrifice from a strictly business point of view. Most of Dick’s business, for instance, is in other types of sporting goods, such as sneakers and basketballs. Guns and ammunition are estimated to account for only 8 percent of sales.
Walmart has not said how much of its business comes from guns, but when the company stopped offering AR-15s in 2015, it cited declining sales.
The actions of those retailers will have very little practical effect on the availability of guns.
Roger Beahm, a professor of marketing at Wake Forest University School of Business, said smaller retailers will probably capitalize on the situation by selling the weapons the major chains will no longer handle.
It remains to be seen what effect the corporate reaction will have on the wider gun debate.
Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA who has written extensively about gun policy, said the NRA is unlikely to budge, but politicians might.
“I don’t think the NRA is going to bow down or buckle to pressure,” Winkler said. “However, the gun debate may change to the extent that this is being driven by companies’ sense of what consumers want. That might affect elected officials on Election Day. Today, they are consumers. On Election Day, they are voters.”
It is rare for a company to drop products out of social concern. When it happens, the calculation is that any loss of revenue will be offset by increased customer loyalty in the long term, Beahm said.
He cited the example of CVS Health, which stopped selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in 2014, a decision that cost $2 billion in revenue but was well received by its customers.
That move was a rare example of a company taking a socially conscious step under no public pressure. Most of the time, corporations act when it becomes untenable for them to ignore the pressure, as in the case of Woolworth and the corporations that left South Africa.
In the case of guns, the calculation of whether to jump into the debate or sit on the sidelines is tricky because the country is so divided on the issue.
Delta Air Lines, for example, faced swift retribution for cutting ties to the NRA. Georgia’s Republican state lawmakers voted Thursday to kill a proposed tax break on jet fuel that would have saved the airline millions.
While polls show the country is split on the broad issue of gun controls, there is widespread support for some measures opposed by the NRA, such as universal background checks.
“The business leaders who make these decisions are betting on the future as opposed to a distorted view of the past,” said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies at Yale School of Management.
The debate over whether it is the business of corporations to weigh in on social issues goes back decades. In 1962, the celebrated economist Milton Friedman, in his book “Capitalism and Freedom,” argued that the only social responsibility of business was to increase profits and play by the rules.
But in recent years, U.S. companies have found it increasingly impossible to avoid being drawn into America’s culture wars.
That was dramatically illustrated when Indiana and North Carolina faced a backlash from businesses that threatened to boycott the states over laws that were deemed discriminatory toward gay and transgender people. Bank of America, American Airlines and IBM were among dozens of companies that spoke out.
A big difference from decades past is the strengthening voice of consumers, who now have a plethora of choices for where to spend their money and social media platforms for making their views heard, Chakravorti said.
That new landscape can make it impossible for businesses leaders to stay out of controversy. That was the case when Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier dropped out of one of President Donald Trump’s advisory councils over the president’s remarks about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Other chief executives followed suit, some reluctantly, and the business councils fell apart.
“Either you stay on the sidelines and get dragged into the debate — and if you do that, you don’t own the conversation around your brand — or you step up and own the conversation around your brand,” Chakravorti said.
A drilling contractor for the Sunoco pipeline project has received permission from North Middleton Township to operate two 85-decibel drilling rigs 24 hours a day for weeks on end in a horse pasture near Creek and Spring roads.
The township board of supervisors granted Sunoco a variance Thursday from the nuisance ordinance that normally prohibits such activity from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.
The supervisors attached a condition to the variance that would require the contractor to install sound barriers around each rig in the event the township receives significant noise complaints from residents about the operation of the horizontal directional drills.
Eighty-five decibels is equivalent to the sound of a propeller plane flying overhead, a diesel train going by at a half-mile distance, a food blender or garbage disposal, township solicitor Mark Allshouse said.
Brad Bonner, a construction manager for the project, said a sound barrier would reduce the noise level to about 60 decibels, which is the equivalent to a normal conversation, according to Allshouse.
The solicitor recommended the supervisors attach a condition where any complaints are brought directly to all five supervisors so that each could have their stamp on how to address a potential noise problem.
“We’re going to let you give it a try,” Allshouse told project representatives Bonner and Steve Kratz. “If there are too many problems or too many complaints, you will go right back to where you are now.”
Sunoco made the request for a variance because drilling for segments of the Mariner East 2 pipeline is behind schedule.
“We are in the process of starting the horizontal directional drill across Conodoguinet Creek,” Kratz told the supervisors. “We are under a tight timetable to finish.”
There is a rig at one end of the pasture that is drilling a pilot hole for a segment of pipeline that would run under Spring Road and the Conodoguinet Creek to near the municipal sewer plant, Bonner said. He said that rig could begin around-the-clock operations six days a week as early as next Thursday.
A pilot hole is used to designate the path in which the pipeline travels through the subsurface, Bonner said. Reamers will be used to gradually increase the width of the hole to a 30-inch diameter to enable a 20-inch product pipe to be pulled through.
The crew on that rig works six 10-hour days, Bonner said. With the variance granted, the 10-hour shift will be expanded to 12-hours and a second 12-hour shift would be added.
A second rig will be set up on the other end of the horse pasture to drill a segment of pipeline that would go under Creek Road, up a nearby hill to behind the Pine Creek development, Bonner said. He said that because of the subsurface rock formations “we are anticipating a slow crawl over for that second drill.”
With around-the-clock drilling, the crews on the rigs could get the work done within two months, Bonner said. He added without the variance it would take about three and a half months.
The current rig has been sitting idle in the pasture for about two months while Sunoco worked out an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection to pay a $12.6 million fine over problems with its Mariner East 2 pipeline project.
“There is no concussion or percussion,” Bonner said about the rigs. “It is just a drill. It does not bang or hammer or anything like that.”
The sound barriers, if needed, are about 15 feet tall and would be positioned between the rig and the nearest homes, Bonner said. When asked by a resident why Sunoco has opted not to set up barriers now, Bonner said the rigs will be located in a low-lying area that could create a mess if the creek rises above its bank.
The third in a series of town hall meetings concerning the youth of Carlisle is planned for 6 p.m. Monday at the YWCA of Carlisle, 301 G St.
Now called the Carlisle Youth Initiative, the effort builds on two previous community meetings, one in November for the men of the town and one in January for the women.
The initiative has a three-fold goal based on research from the Brookings Institution, according to Carlisle Police Chief Taro Landis. Those goals are to finish high school, not get pregnant or married before 21 and to get a full-time job.
YWCA Executive Director Robin Scaer said meetings will look at the programs that already exist in the town and determine how they can be brought together to have a more cohesive sense of what is available for the middle school age group. There are many programs for elementary school students, and high school students have school activities and employment opportunities.
“It’s a little bit harder for those tweens,” she said.
Landis said there are already programs working in the community, such as Hope Station’s YOGA, GirlPower! at the YWCA, REACH and Carlisle Victory Circle, among others. Eventually, the youth initiative aims to have a program running Monday through Friday for middle schoolers.
“What we’re trying to do is blow up the programs that are already there,” Landis said.
At the meeting, participants will organize into groups based on the skills and talents they can bring to the initiative.
“This one is going to be different because it’s not going to be asking questions and making suggestions,” said Safronia Perry, executive director of Hope Station.
Rather, this meeting will take the initiative from concept to action by offering ways people can become involved in the different organizations and coordinating a public calendar so that people know what each organization does, she said.
By doing so, the community will be creating “a collective voice approach to ensuring that a segment of our population — these youth — are safe and involved,” Scaer said.