Westmoreland Co. sheriff calls for mandatory drug testing for county employees

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WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. - The Westmoreland County sheriff called for mandatory drug testing for county employees Wednesday, this after a deputy was arrested on drug charges last week.

Part-time deputy Erika Ditch, 24, of Greensburg, was charged with drug possession in Pittsburgh. She resigned a day after being released from jail.

“We want to make sure that if somebody has a problem, they can get help and they're not out there with a badge and a gun on them," Sheriff Jonathan Held said.

Held announced the plan, stating that he will implement a zero tolerance policy. Held said he and his managers will take drug tests on Thursday.

"I hope to gain the public's trust again," Held said.

Meanwhile, Held also defended his hiring practices saying that his staffers are entitled to turn their lives around after making mistakes that led to criminal charges.

“We're law enforcement and we need to be held to a high standard but we're people too,” Held said.

Held said two current deputies he's hired since taking office in January 2012 have been found to have criminal records.

Deputy Sheriff Alex J. Harshell, 25, of Greensburg, was charged with drunken driving in February and is expected to enter the Accelerated Rehabilatative Disposition Program for first-time offenders next week. Entry into the program is not an admission of guilt.

Deputy Sheriff Michael Patrick Murphy, 24, of Penn, pleaded guilty in 2009 to a misdemeanor charge of furnishing alcohol to a minor and was sentenced to serve one year on probation.

A department staffer, clerk Mario Anthony Lizza, 35, of Scottdale, was arrested last year on a charge of furnishing drug-free urine to be used in a drug test. Lizza entered the ARD program last August and served six months on probation.

Held said Lizza no longer works for the county but declined to say whether he was fired. Harshell and Murphy are still on staff.

“If they have a record, they'll get a shot. We'll weigh everything. If they've paid their debt to society they'll be considered for employment,” Held said.

The sheriff said he has three bids from drug testing contractors and hopes for a speedy approval from the county commissioners.  

Once approved, he will drug test all 82 of his employees then do random drug testing every month.

 

Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE contributed to this report.