In what is believed to be a first, a law enforcement organization has endorsed the candidacy of a Democratic candidate attempting to unseat Chester County’s incumbent district attorney.

The Fraternal Order of Police organization that represents state police troopers who cover Chester, Lancaster and York counties gave its support to former county prosecutor Deborah “Deb” Ryan, who announced her candidacy earlier this year.

The endorsement comes in the wake of a long-running feud between Republican District Attorney Tom Hogan and state police.

FOP Lodge 66 President Todd McCurdy released the following statement:

“Deb Ryan has been stalwart in her support for law enforcement in Pennsylvania and Chester County in particular. Her dedication to the pursuit of justice is unwavering. Ms. Ryan believes in the importance of collaboration with law enforcement. Her dedication to the positive working relationship between police and prosecutors will prove to be a benefit to the citizens of Chester County. 

“We are confident that Deb Ryan will work to ensure the security and safety of those who live and work in Chester County,” the statement read.

The endorsement, and its implicit rejection of the re-election campaign of Hogan, is a boost for Ryan’s campaign. Not only is it believed to be the first time in memory that a group of law enforcement officers lined up behind a Democratic candidate for district attorney in the county, but also the only time such a group has decided not to support the Republican incumbent in the office.

Ryan is the first former prosecutor to run as a Democrat for the position in modern county history.

In a press release, Ryan expressed her “gratitude and honor” for the endorsement. 

“I am very proud of my successful collaboration with the Pennsylvania State Police throughout my 15 years as a prosecutor, where together we handled some of the most egregious child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and high-level drug trafficking cases in Chester County’s history,” her statement read.

“It is essential that the District Attorney’s Office and law enforcement have a positive working relationship based on mutual respect and commitment to serving and protecting our community,” she noted. “I admire and respect all the men and women who risk their lives every day in order to protect us and keep us safe."

Ryan’s reference to a “positive working relationship” between the DA’s Office and law enforcement illuminates the rift that was exposed last year between the union representing state police troopers in the county and Hogan, a two-time incumbent and former county and federal prosecutor.

In October, the Pennsylvania State Trooper’s Association and one of its former commanders filed a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court objecting to the way Hogan was using an in-house “do not call” list of police officers who prosecutors were prohibited from using in court proceedings because of their inherent untrustworthiness.

The lawsuit, which is currently making its way through the court system after the judge overseeing the case ruled that it be allowed to proceed towards trial, criticized the “arbitrary and capricious whim of District Attorney Hogan” in deciding which police officers are included on the list, the existence of which was previously unknown publicly, without giving them a chance to plead their case against such inclusion. 

The list, Hogan said in a July memo to state police officials, contained three names — two state troopers who had been convicted of crimes in the county and then-Lt. Brandon Daniels, who Hogan accused of insubordination for his failure to follow rules set by the DA’s Office in officer-involved shootings. Daniels has since retired.

Hogan contends that the trooper’s association lawsuit is an improper attempt to usurp his authority and micro-manage how his office conducts its business. He said it should be thrown out. 

On Friday, Hogan said he was unaware that the FOP Lodge 66 was in the process of endorsing candidates for office at this time. The primary election, in which Hogan is running unopposed as a Republican and Ryan unopposed as a Democrat, is set for May 21.

“As District Attorney, my job is to represent everyone in Chester County and keep our streets safe,” Hogan said in a written response to a request for comment on the endorsement.  

“Chester County has the lowest crime rate in southeastern Pennsylvania. We continue to do outstanding work for justice in this office, even where a specific union may disagree with the Constitutional duties that govern prosecutors,” he said, referring indirectly to the suit.  “I look forward to earning the support of voters again this November and keeping Chester County a safe place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Ryan, 48, of Birmingham, like most trial prosecutors in the county, has a long history of working with state police troopers, who are responsible for providing patrol coverage for several smaller municipalities in the county that lack their own local police, as well as investigating major crimes across municipal boundaries.

In an interview, Ryan said state police cases she worked on include the break-up of a million-dollar cocaine trafficking operation in southern Chester County; the investigation of a former Chester County Prison corrections officer who had been molesting young children he was a foster parent to; and the conviction of a former Phoenixville man, Warren Yerger, who sexually abused four children over a period of years.

Ryan said in the Yerger case, the lead investigator, state Trooper Heather Heffner, showed a high degree of dedication and professionalism in working with the children in the case, who had been traumatized for years by the abuse. “It was one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever worked on, but Trooper Heffner was the one who was fist able to gain the trust of the survivors and their families” in bringing the case forward.

Yerger was eventually sentenced to 339 to 690 years in state prison. 

The state police FOP lodge endorsement came after Ryan appeared for an interview with the lodge membership in February she said. 

A graduate of Boston University and the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, Ryan began her career as an assistant district attorney at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office for approximately four years, and was hired as an assistant district attorney in the county in 2006. She was promoted to deputy district attorney in charge of the Child Abuse Unit and Children’s Advocacy Center in 2013.

To contact Staff Writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.

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