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How did a “tough-on-crime” Somerset County D.A. end up in prison this week for rape?



… Tribune-Democrat in 2020: “Thomas not fit to be Somerset’s DA”


When he ran for District Attorney two years ago, Jeffrey L. Thomas said that he “styled himself as a tough-on-crime” prosecutor, but this week, he was accused of a violent rape of a woman in Windber, Pa. and was arrested by Pennsylvania State Police.


This was not Thomas’ first brush with the law, but it is by far the most serious. In fact, after some other altercations and violations of the law, the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat wrote an editorial that condemned his actions and questioned his fitness for the office.


Despite the arrest for felonious assault, he remains in office.


Arrested on Wednesday


The state police issued a release on Wednesday that announced the arrest and that he was being held in Cambria County prison — instead of that in Somerset County — for the rape, which occurred Saturday night.


Here are some of the details,


Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Lynn Thomas was arrested Wednesday and charged with raping a woman on Sept. 18 after showing up at her Windber Borough residence late that night, Pennsylvania State Police said.


In a criminal complaint filed against him Wednesday, Thomas is accused of entering the woman’s home without permission after sending her a message on the social media app Snapchat.


Thomas allegedly arrived with several cans of beer and became “agitated” after the woman rejected his advances, told him to leave and slapped him. Thomas then struck her in the face, grabbed her by the neck and then raped her on her couch, Corporal Matthew Auker wrote in the complaint.


Auker wrote that Thomas only left after the woman told him she wouldn’t contact the police.


Thomas also faces charges of indecent assault, strangulation, simple assault and criminal trespass, according to a statement sent out by the state police.


The woman’s child was in the residence during the attack, according to the police report.


The woman provided details of Thomas “using marijuana with her at her residence prior to the sexual assault,” police said, although it was not clear in the complaint whether that occurred on the night of the alleged attack or in the past. She reportedly told police that she has known Thomas in a professional capacity for several years.


Dave Sutor and David Hurst, “Somerset County District Attorney Jeffrey Thomas charged with rape, assault,” Tribune-Democrat, September 23, 2021


The woman’s identity is being withheld.


Investigation

The case has drawn state and national attention, and while Thomas denies the allegations, the felonies are very serious. The woman went to state police in Ebensburg, Cambria County, instead of those in her home county. Authorities there asked the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to become involved since having an investigation in the county where he remains the D.A. would be problematic,


The investigation started on Tuesday, after the woman contacted authorities and spoke with state police in Ebensburg. PSP-Troop A’s Ebensburg Criminal Investigation Unit, Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Cambria County District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General worked together on the case.


Authorities searched the woman’s home on Tuesday and seized several cans of beer and items of clothing that she was wearing before the assault, according to the criminal complaint.


“Upon investigation, troopers determined that Mr. Thomas entered the home of the victim, an adult female acquaintance, without permission and remained there after being told to leave,” state police stated in a news release. “Mr. Thomas is accused of then sexually and physically assaulting the female victim inside the residence.”

Thomas was arraigned Wednesday in front of on-call Somerset County Magisterial District Judge Douglas Bell. Thomas was remanded to Cambria County Prison in lieu of $5,000 bail.


Dave Sutor and David Hurst, Tribune-Democrat, September 23, 2021


“Deeply disturbing”


Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania said this in part in a release,


“Mr. Thomas is entrusted by the public to uphold the law and serve as a voice for victims,” Shapiro said in the police press release. “I commend the bravery of the victim that has come forward – that is never an easy thing to do, especially when your abuser is a powerful elected official. Today is a reminder that no one is above the law.”


Dave Sutor and David Hurst, Tribune-Democrat, September 23, 2021


As The Daily Beast noted, Thomas, a Republican, unseated the incumbent Democratic D.A. in predominantly Republican Somerset County,


Thomas was elected in 2019 with 60 percent of the vote and took office in January 2020. He unseated incumbent DA Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, a Democrat.


“I am a veteran, lifelong resident, & father,” Thomas wrote on his campaign website. “I will work to stop the drug epidemic that has destroyed the lives of too many of our citizens.”


Justin Rohrlich, “Tough-on-Crime Republican DA Charged With Ambushing,

Raping Woman,” The Daily Beast, September 23, 2021


Previous legal altercations


After newspapers had asked for evidence, the county had to release evidence that Thomas had been drinking beer in his office, which violated the Somerset County Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Policy.


That was one of his altercations the led the Tribune to question his fitness for office,

When running for the office of Somerset County District Attorney a year ago, Jeffrey L. Thomas told The Tribune-Democrat that he believes residents of the county were “ready for something different” in the office.


In electing Thomas, it seems what residents of Somerset County got was an immature and reckless individual who is not fit to represent the county in the courtroom or in the community.


The latest embarrassing chapter involves his alleged obscenity-laced outbursts on Saturday in Richland Township, which resulted in citations announced Tuesday by Cambria County District Attorney Greg Neugebauer.


Thomas owes a sincere and public apology to the business owners involved, the Somerset County court and government system and residents of both counties – at minimum.

If Thomas can’t control his behavior and represent the county with more dignity and professionalism, he won’t have the standing and respect necessary to continue as the district attorney.

Editorial, “Latest incidents indicate Thomas not fit to be Somerset’s

DA,” Tribune-Democrat, October 22, 2021


The editorial then outlined what Thomas had one at a gymnastics business in the Johnstown area,


The accounts of what happened Saturday between the Somerset DA and owners of two local businesses – Capri Pizza and Uzelac Gymnastics – were remarkably consistent.


Thomas said he reacted “just like, I think, any other father” would when details of his daughter’s birthday party were not what he expected. He said the venue, the gymnastics center, was not ready when the birthday group arrived, and the pizza shop failed to deliver food that he eventually picked up himself.


Thomas said: “Did I say some things that I probably shouldn’t have said? Yeah, but, hey, listen. I’m an elected official, but I’m a dad first, and to see my daughter upset because her party’s screwed up, I think that would get a lot of dads upset.”


Editorial, Tribune-Democrat, October 22, 2021


The editorial concluded,


His short tenure as Somerset County’s district attorney has been an avalanche of troubling and embarrassing incidents for the county, the office and himself.


If Thomas wants to continue as Somerset’s district attorney, he must grow up and show that he deserves that title.


Editorial, Tribune-Democrat, October 22, 2021

More to come on this story.


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