First Amendment

A Pennsylvania Police Chief Resigns After Pleading Guilty to Threatening a Facebook Critic With a False Arrest

Perhaps the ignominious end to Brian Buglio's career will alert thin-skinned cops to the perils of trying to punish people for constitutionally protected speech.

|

A Pennsylvania police chief has resigned after admitting that he threatened to arrest a critic on trumped-up charges. West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Buglio, who had worked for the town's police department since 1996, pleaded guilty to violating the critic's First Amendment rights under color of law, a federal crime punishable by up to a year of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $100,000.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, which charged Buglio last Friday, did not name his victim. But WNEP, the ABC station in Scranton, identified him as East Stroudsburg resident Paul DeLorenzo, who said his beef with Buglio began with Facebook posts last February. One post criticized Buglio for taking too long to make an arrest in a case involving DeLorenzo. Another post, WNEP says, "accused the chief of committing a violent crime."

That's when DeLorenzo heard from Buglio. "He called me, left me a voicemail, and said that he was going to arrest me for a crime that was being investigated for something I've never even done or had any part of," DeLorenzo told WNEP. In March, Buglio summoned him to the police station, where DeLorenzo agreed to take down his posts under threat of arrest. "I said to Brian, 'Why are you doing this?'" DeLorenzo recalled. "He goes, 'Well, you like to post fake things and fake stories about me, so I could make up a fake arrest and put you in jail.'"

DeLorenzo reported the incident to the FBI office in Scranton, which conducted an investigation that led to the federal charge against Buglio. Federal prosecutors said Buglio admitted he knew there was no legal basis to arrest DeLorenzo. He agreed to plead guilty within a few days of being charged.

Buglio is hardly the first thin-skinned cop to treat irksome speech as a crime. As C.J. Ciaramella noted in April, Dickson, Tennessee, cops charged Joshua Grafton with "harassment" last January because he posted a picture on Facebook that "appeared to show two men urinating on the tombstone of Sgt. Daniel Baker, who was shot and killed on duty in 2018." In March, Ciaramella cited a couple of other recent examples:

In 2019, an Iowa man won a lawsuit after he was charged with third-degree harassment for posting on Facebook that a sheriff's deputy was a "stupid sum bitch" and "butthurt." Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit denied qualified immunity to a Minnesota police officer who pulled over and arrested a man for flipping her off.

Going further back, Liberty, New York, police arrested Willian Barboza in 2012 for scrawling "FUCK YOUR SHITTY TOWN BITCHES" on a speeding ticket when he paid the fine by mail. For good measure, Barboza crossed out Liberty in the phrase "Liberty Town Court" and replaced it with Tyranny. As if to prove his point, local cops charged him with "aggravated harassment in the second degree"—a charge that was ultimately dismissed by a municipal judge who concluded that Barboza's commentary was protected by the First Amendment.

In 2011, police in Renton, Washington, used a trumped-up "cyberstalking" investigation to uncover the identity of "Mr. Fuddlesticks," the creator of nine online cartoons that mocked the police department and alluded to various internal affairs investigations. They later changed their allegation to "harassment."

I could go on, but you get the idea. Perhaps the ignominious end to Buglio's policing career will help alert vindictive cops to the fact that inventing fake crimes in retaliation for constitutionally protected speech is an actual crime under federal law.

NEXT: There's Never Been a Better Time To Be LGBT in America

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Guess the FBI isn’t completely useless.

    1. Brian Buglio? You have to be kidding me…his very name even sounds like a Mafia wanna-be. You can’t make this stuff up and Buglio is too stupid to be a police officer, much less a police chief. Good riddance to bad rubbish giving the profession a bad name.

      1. Making money online more than 15$ just by doing simple work from home. I have received $18376 last month. Its an easy and simple job to do and its earnings are SWS much better than regular office job and even a little child can do this and earns money. Everybody must try this job by just use the info
        on this page…..VISIT HERE

    2. Buglio was the police chief of a town of 4600 people, with 4 full time and 4 part time police officers. The Scranton Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Public Corruption Task Force that investigated him, has to justify their existence. It’s easy to get complaints about small town police, as compared to investigating politicians selling favors for campaign cash.

      With about 1.2 million law enforcement personnel in the US, this is barely scratching the surface of police abuse, let alone public corruption.

  2. “Perhaps the ignominious end to Brian Buglio’s career will alert thin-skinned cops to the perils of trying to punish people for constitutionally protected speech.”

    Sullum’s got jokes

  3. Dude could fill in for the late great Gandolfini for a Sopranos reboot.

  4. Any word on the protesters being held without charges? Or are political prisoners part of the New Normal?

  5. Chief precious and unique snowflake illustrates that many of our ubiquitous police abuse problems stem from the mental fragility and brittle egos of cops. Their predisposition to domestic abuse, substance abuse, and assorted criminality also point to a widespread problem in both the self-selection and selection of cops.

    “Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum.” ~ P.J. O’Rourke

    A.C.A.B.
    All
    Cops
    Are
    Bureaucrats

    “Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned.” ~ Milton Friedman

    1. Armed bureaucrats. It’s amazing how many don’t know or have never been instructed on the limits of their authority (whether or not generally it exists in practice).

      1. Power and authority are not the same thing. They have authority when they are enforcing the law. That’s it. Everything else they do is abuse of power.

    2. Not all who serve are this power centric and completely stupid. The least he could have done if he was going to bully someone and threaten them is cover his tracks. Arrogance is a bad thing which comes back on you every time.

    3. “…Chief precious and unique snowflake illustrates that many of our ubiquitous police abuse problems stem from the mental fragility and brittle egos of cops…’

      This from a TDS-addled asshole willing to do what he could to keep from having to read mean tweets, now whining that others can’t tolerate criticism, right, you pathetic piece of shit?
      Someone with an IQ high enough to warm a room would recognize the hypocrisy in your bullshit; we can be assured that’s beyond your abilities.
      Fuck off and die; make the world a better place.

  6. There are potentially interest contrasts:

    Vindictive angry police abusing power over speech

    Police that laugh with you and abuse power

    Police that laugh at you and abuse power

    Police that are stone cold indifferent and abuse power.

    Among all these choices, the only constant is abuse of power. Personality wise, I’m not sure which is the worst. The contrasts in mental composition range from comical to horrifying.

  7. Now do the mainstream media.

    1. Weren’t CNN anchors telling people it was illegal to read Wikileaks?

  8. How does it go? If you finally catch a burglar, he’s probably succeeded (wild guess) 25 times or more. This nut has been at it for 24 years. Now do the math.

Please to post comments