It seems that hardly a month goes by without some kind of strange story emerging from the Somerset County commissioners office, and Joe Betta always seem to be at the center of it.
Betta was in the spotlight again last week for all of the wrong reasons.
The Republican and his Democrat counterparts always seem to be at odds, but this time it wasn’t just his fellow commissioners that took umbrage with Betta. Sherriff John Mankey and District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser joined John Vatavuk and Pamela Tokar-Ickes, who, like Betta, are county commissioners and members of the Somerset County prison board, in criticizing his actions.
The quartet drafted a letter rebuking Betta for what they say are unfounded allegations of misconduct at the county jail.
“It is unfortunate that a member of the prison board has publicly made allegations that impugn the integrity of the warden without adequate justification,” they wrote.
The situation stems from the investigation of former guard Ronald Edward Lensbouer of Friedens. The 44-year-old was charged in June with sexual assault and harassment of two female guards he supervised.
Lensbouer’s conduct, if proven true, is deplorable.
So, too, was Betta’s decision to publicly state that he had evidence that jail Warden Greg Briggs did not turn over all information to Somerset Borough police during their investigation earlier that year.
Betta told our Randy Griffith that he asked Briggs if he ever covered up or failed to report evidence of sexual harassment.
“He said ‘No’; end of story,” Betta said. “I’ve got a statement to the effect that he did (withhold evidence). I am not ready to reveal it.”
Why not? If Betta has such evidence, he should absolutely come forward with it. To publicly make the accusation against Briggs but then refuse to “reveal” it is ridiculous. This isn’t an episode of “Perry Mason.” Betta’s job isn’t to build to a dramatic conclusion and then unveil his evidence in an “Aha!” moment.
It’s not our place to determine whether or not Briggs did withhold evidence. Mankey and Lazzari-Strasiser are charged with making such determinations, and they say that Betta was out of line with his accusation.
“I felt there was no room for interpretation of what he was alleging,” Lazzari-Strasiser said. “He was alleging that the warden was part of a cover-up. That was clearly not the case.”
We trust the district attorney to make such decisions, as do the voters who elected her.
The voters of Somerset County also elected Betta, although we wonder how many now regret that decision.
Although Somerset County Commissioner Joe Betta was a Republican when he was elected to office in 2011, he left the party less than a year later to become an independent.