The Facebook post appeared to come from an official government account and quickly went viral. It reached out to methamphetamine users in the Lehigh Valley area with a warning and an offer of help.
“If you have recently purchased meth in Northampton, Monroe, Lehigh or Bucks Counties, it may be contaminated with the Influenza Virus,” read the post, since deleted, by the self-proclaimed Wilson Borough State Constable’s Office.
“Please bring all of it to your local Police Department and they will test it for free,” the post continued. “If you’re not comfortable driving to your local Police Department, You can contact my Office and an officer or deputy will be glad to come to you and test your Meth in the privacy of your home.”
The post’s author, Wilson Constable Fred Schoenenberger, said on Monday that it was intended as a humorous way to spotlight a real problem: drug addiction. But it has provoked outcry from critics who deride it as misinformation from an unofficial source that appears otherwise.
“When you see this page it comes off as like something from a police department, but that’s not what it is,” said Joshua Fulmer, a lawyer for the Northampton County Constables Association, of which Schonenberger is not a member.
Constables are elected and, at times, appointed law enforcement officials whose authority and oversight has often provoked rigorous debate in Pennsylvania. They typically work at the district court level, but are independent contractors, earning their living through the fees they collect for serving warrants and subpoenas and transporting prisoners.
Schoenenberger, an elected constable in Wilson, said there’s nothing misleading about the Facebook page he manages, given his position.
“It is pretty clear, it says ‘Wilson Borough State Constable’s Office,’ ” Schoenenberger said. “It didn’t say ‘police.’ It said ‘Wilson Borough State Constable’s Office.’ That’s what it is, that’s who I am.”
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli called Schoenenberger’s post puzzling and probably in bad judgment.
“I read it and it made no sense to me,” Morganelli said.
Schoenenberger said he got his idea from the Edgar County Sheriff’s Office of Illinois, which posted the warning on Dec. 31. Schoenenberger said he copied and pasted that note to create the message he disseminated Saturday night, which was first reported by the Express Times of Easton.
Schoenenberger said his post reached more than 63,000 people before he took it down on Sunday.
“While this intended ‘humor’ may have offended some it certainly opened some real dialogue about how serious this issue is,” Schoenenberger wrote in a subsequent post. “We received many messages for help, and asking if this was real. The post is real and the help is real if you want it and ask for it.”
Schoenenberger said he was contacted by “six or seven” people who were upset over the original message, but also from three people who asked for help with drug addictions. He said he referred them to state and county drug and alcohol programs.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a success,” Schoenenberger said.
Asked if the post could be labeled fake news, Schoenenberger said that’s for others to say.
“You could look at it that way. It is open to everybody’s interpretation what it could be,” he said.
Wilson Police Chief Christian Meehan said the post had nothing to do with his department, but did not affect it adversely. He said no one had come forward asking police to test meth.
“I’m not sure exactly the meaning of the post, if it was in jest or if it was to help people, like it said,” Meehan said.
Schoenenberger has been under scrutiny before. In 2012, he and another constable, Richard Seeds, were investigated on allegations that they used excessive force during an arrest in Easton in which a prisoner was shocked with a stun gun.
At a news conference at the time, Morganelli said the pair had acted inappropriately and unprofessionally, but would not be charged with a crime. Morganelli said the two constables had posted pictures from the arrest on the internet, and were found to have written disparaging comments about the prisoners they dealt with, calling them “turds.”
Fulmer, the lawyer for the constables association, is a member of the law firm that represents the prisoner shocked during the arrest, Anthony Giamoni, who has sued Schoenenberger and Seeds in federal court claiming civil rights violations. Fulmer is also the son of a deputy constable in Palmer Township, Doug Fulmer.
Joshua Fulmer said Schoenenberger’s post reinforces negative views of constables that they have long tried to overcome.
“That’s the ongoing battle that the association struggles with, making sure that the constables who are members of the association act responsibly and professionally,” Fulmer said.
Schoenenberger said that if he got people talking about the drug epidemic, he served a purpose.