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.