Karate legend Chuck Norris had nothing on Scranton Mayor and self-proclaimed martial arts master Bill Courtright when the alleged 8th-degree black belt leaped into action at a St. Patrick’s Day parade beer bash gone bad on Taylor Avenue.
Everybody was king fu fighting.
Those cats were fast as lightning.
In fact it was a little bit frightening.
But they fought with expert timing.
And now it’s case closed, with the police report already written and available to the public and high-ranking officers defending the rookie mayor’s involvement in physically restraining a suspect who real cops later handcuffed and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
For Master Courtright, public service is just another day at the dojo.
But it’s not case closed for truly professional law enforcement officers, whose best trained advocates strongly advise against civilians, including the ghost of Bruce Lee, interfering in the sometimes deadly world of protecting the public.
To make matters worse, no mention of Courtright’s involvement appears in the official police report.
Police Chief Carl Graziano said that should not be the case. Maybe the officer was so busy in the aftermath of the chaos that is the Scranton Paddy’s Day parade that she overlooked including the mayor in her report, Graziano said.
I doubt it.
The officer included the name, address and telephone number of a witness who called 911 because “things were getting out of hand” at the party. With such expected attention to detail I would also expect the officer to include a major martial arts moment from the mayor – her boss – that resulted in a restraint technique used by the master who is a certified self-defense instructor at the local police training academy.
If the accused gets a lawyer and sues, and I will not be surprised if that now happens, I would expect said lawyer to ask for the police report to look for who exactly took his client to the ground so he can subpoena that person to court and cross-examine him about why he jumped into an official police action when he is not even a cop.
Courtright would then have to answer questions – questions he has steadfastly refused to answer from me, by the way – concerning his teachers, his formal training and who promoted him to a black belt ranking higher than God’s.
The only explanation for Courtright’s use of force is that the officer he was accompanying on what police call a “ride-along” was in real danger or being attacked. But Graziano made no mention of a real threat or attack when we spoke yesterday.
I understand that the officer is forbidden by department rules from commenting.
Still, we need a full and detailed explanation.
So does the city’s insurance carrier.
Is Courtright covered for physically restraining anybody? Even if he’s right, what if the accused claims he got injured by an elected official while sworn police officers stood by and watched as their supervisor put him into some kind of ancient and mysterious arm bar reserved for use only by the elite and secret shogun protection unit of a secret Samurai force?
Who’s going to pay the legal bills, ninjas? Or taxpayers in the already cash-strapped and feudal city Courtright is paid to serve? What if Courtright got injured? What if he had encountered a 9th degree black belt schooled in the mysterious and ancient art of chop suey phooey?
Yes, it’s an ancient Chinese art. And everybody knew their part. There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung. He said here comes the big boss let’s get it on.
And that’s exactly what the Electric City’s big boss did.
For better or worse, the civilian mayor put himself on the front lines of a battle in which he is not supposed to engage – unless, of course, he was busy saving the female officer from not being able to do her job. Did she really require his assistance? Was she in real physical danger? Did she agree to step aside so Courtright could protect her?
If so, why didn’t she include those answers in her official police report? Why did she keep Courtright’s name out of the report all together? Will Graziano require her to file a supplemental report? Should somebody investigate the mayor, who failed to respond to a message that I left with his secretary?
From a feint into as slip and kicking from the hip.
No response to legitimate requests for an interview with my congressman, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright.
And that’s no way to treat a voter - not to mention that I’m an elder statesman of the local press who has worked the truth-seeking trenches for almost 30 years in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
On Friday, in the spirit of Irish peacemaking and in preparation for the Scranton St. Patrick’s Day parade the following day, I declared an official truce between me and the no-account politicians with whom I have developed a prickly rash of a relationship over the past year.
That’s my job, by the way. Pester, antagonize, provoke, challenge, annoy, belittle and sometimes even work to destroy the careers of those who dishonor the public trust or do not take seriously their public responsibility to uphold the public trust.
That sounds rash because it is. Trite as it might sound to you, the press must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. And nobody is more comfortable in hard coal country than elected officials.
Cartwright, just by virtue of his position, is the most comfortable daily diner at the public trough.
When he ran as an underdog, nobody was more in his corner than I was. At times he seemed like a co-host on the show, turning up with little or no notice to answer questions about why he was the best candidate for the job.
Cartwright ran in the Democratic primary in a newly constructed district, facing off against Democratic darling and longtime incumbent congressman Tim Holden, a crotchety and well-oiled veteran who controlled much of what passed for democracy in his district. Powerful status quo Democrats, people like U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, played it safe with Holden. I ran amok with Cartwright, who passed himself off as an “FDR Democrat,” a liberal who was proud of his leftist leanings. And when Cartwright won, the lads from the other side became his new best friends. Even worse, Cartwright became one of them, a posturing, fawning, timid and lackluster follower rather than the rebel leader he claimed to be.
Still, I gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Then I asked for a favor as a constituent, good citizen, and law-abiding member of the community. I didn’t just ask for myself, either. I asked for us all.
Would Cartwright help us remove from a public park the name of an admitted federal gangster, a prison inmate and former powerful Democratic Party warlord who pillaged the public trust?
Cartwright quickly refused. Stammering and spinning, the rookie lawmaker passed off his duly elected responsibility to anybody who could get him off the hook. We sensed his fear and an unwillingness to stand up for what was right. We sensed a dereliction of duty. We saw right through him. Obviously embarrassed, Cartwright also didn’t like what we saw.
As you might expect, my on-the-air critiques became sharper.
Then one day his normally obedient communications director – who also serves as his re-election campaign field director – stopped taking my calls. Shane Seaver stopped responding to my emails. I still received the bureaucratic press releases that seemed to be spit from Washington automatically, but human contact ceased. Even my most serious questions about policy – including an alleged murder that a self-proclaimed former gang member whom Cartwright appointed to a task force claimed he witnessed - went unheeded.
Then I declared my First Annual Scranton St. Patrick’s Day Corbett Truce.
The truce went well. Standing in front of cathedral steps, I watched a nest of elected sinners descend into the street. I shook hands one after the other with men who likely still despise me but agreed to abide by my truce. Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright, state Rep. Sid Michaels Kavulich, Scranton City Councilman Bill Gaughan, Scranton School District Superintendent Bill King and others smiled as we broke shamrocks together.
I made a point to hunt down Cartwright. Stepping to my congressman, I announced the truce. Cartwright grinned and announced that we were not fighting. People around him laughed and we were all of a sudden in this mess together. Cartwright even relaxed long enough to tell a silly story about congressmen doing yoga at the Capitol at taxpayer expense.
More about that later.
And off I went, with a second handshake and the promise that, “We’ll talk.” I made the promise, by the way.
On Monday, Cartwright’s editorial about immigration appeared in the Times-Tribune. I figured the issue was serious enough to invite him on the show. So I did. I left three voicemails for Seaver and spoke to a staffer in Cartwright’s Scranton office. I left a personal voicemail on Seaver’s cellphone after getting the number from a Washington staffer.
Maybe we had a mix-up along the way. Maybe Cartwright isn’t getting the messages.
London’s calling from “across the pond,” as the young woman television researcher puts it in her emails from England.
They’re interested in Betty Wolsieffer’s murder, she says, mostly in giving a voice to the victim whose death so many years ago has been forgotten by too many, a death that occurred before the researcher was even born.
That’s why I agreed to talk with the television people from the Discovery investigation show when they come to Wilkes-Barre at the end of the month.
After I agreed, though, I had second thoughts and told them I wasn’t interested in speaking with the director, reporter, researcher or anybody else who showed up with a camera crew.
Time had not healed all wounds and I didn’t want to continue to open the cuts.
A few months ago, after talking on the phone to Betty’s killer, her husband, Glen, for the first time in more than 20 years, I wrote a front page newspaper column in The Times Leader, the newspaper where I worked and wrote columns for 17 years.
Killer Glen was up to his old pathology of trying to manipulate public opinion about his innocence. After telling prison officials that he “took responsibility” for his crime, Glen told me that he only admitted guilt to get out of prison after spending 13 years inside. He faced a maximum sentence of seven more years.
Sicko Glen lied to get his way.
So what else is new?
People needed to know that he was back on the street and up to his usual bad behavior.
I must admit that I was disappointed at the lack of interest in the column. I expected more. Of course people read the story but I wanted more public outcry. I wanted people clamoring for Glen to come clean. I wanted real justice. That didn’t really happen and probably never will.
Telling the story is something I always do and this story needs to be remembered. That’s why I changed my mind and agreed again to talk with the British broadcast journalists.
Actually, another force, a force of evil, pushed me.
Glen’s talking to us, too, the British researcher tells me.
The killer's continuing spin creates a major problem.
I have no doubt that Glen will try to resurrect the mystery “intruder” theory for the brutal strangulation dearth of his wife. A jury found, however, that Glen left Betty’s body on their bedroom floor when he was through with her on August 30, 1986.
For me to turn away now would dishonor everything I have fought to achieve as a journalist. To ignore his brutal power play would disrespect the memory of the woman he murdered and the pain her family still endures at his hand. To remain silent while Glen gains international attention for once again, using and abusing his wife – even while in her grave - would be unforgivable.
So I plan to talk with the crew.
Maybe I’ll suggest that we stop by Glen’s house together. As I have done in the past, I’m willing to knock on the door at the little house on Magnolia Avenue where he lives with his mother. I’m willing to face our wicked has-been husband and ask why he not only killed by why he persists in living the lie that keeps attacking redemption while continuing to hurt him and others.
Glen is frail nowadays.
Glen is fragile.
Glen is broken.
But Glen is still dangerous to himself and others.
No matter what bogus yet confident drivel he posts on Facebook, Glen, according to police, was seen several times sitting alone in his car at night, smoking cigarettes at the end of Birch Street where he lived when he became a murderer.
I told Glen when we spoke that some people worried that he might kill himself. I told him that he might feel better if he talked and explained exactly what happened and why he did what he did. Instead of facing facts and reality, instead of truly facing himself, Glen floated off to the netherworld where he lives with the devil in his personal piece of hell where lies always come to the rescue until they explode in great balls of fate and fire.
Glen still believes that his delusion will set him free.
I am not alone in seeing through the charade. I see fear and insecurity, weakness and indecision. I see Glen trying to fool himself that he will be able to persuade knowledgeable people of his innocence. I see a pathetic attempt to mislead that has always failed in the past.
That’s why I urge you to look for the British film crew when they come to town. Welcome them into your lives. Talk with the, Tell them the truth. Speak for the good wife and mother who can no longer speak for herself
That way we will do our part if we are able in setting the record straight each time Glen tries his murderous manipulation on a new set of victims.
I don’t want Glen to suffer any more than he already has.
I don’t want anybody else to suffer, either, especially Betty’s family whose prison of pain is a dreadful life sentence of loss.