Greensburg police chief's arrest shocks community

Jan. 25—Federal drug charges filed against Greensburg police Chief Shawn Denning caught community members by surprise Wednesday.

Westmoreland County Park police Chief Henry Fontana, who worked 22 years as a Greensburg police officer and detective, had no indication Denning was being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"I'm as shocked as anyone," Fontana said. "It's a serious black eye for that place."

"It's disappointing," Greensburg Councilman Randy Finfrock said. "I certainly didn't see it coming."

He declined further comment since a personnel issue is involved.

Other Greensburg officials deferred to Mayor Robb Bell, who issued a statement noting Denning no longer is affiliated with the city.

Ricki Sterf, who works as a school crossing guard in the city, registered surprise when she learned of the charges.

"I don't even know what to think of it," she said. "It's crazy."

Mary Wilmes, owner of Penelope's boutique in downtown Greensburg, learned about the charges Wednesday, as did many others.

"It's too bad for the community," she said.

But she believes the town has a resilience that will see it through.

"In this business community, everybody thinks on the positive side," she said. "Positive leads to more positive."

Bernard Berry, who lives near Denning in Delmont's Apple Hill neighborhood, said he never saw any unusual activity at the former chief's house, situated near the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.

"I've known him just to say hello on the street now and then, but that's about the only time I've seen him," Berry said.

"I feel bad for the community, but I also feel bad for (Denning)," said Esther Rahl, president of Vaccare's Pharmacy in Greensburg.

She believes the case illustrates the ongoing problem of drug addiction in America.

"It shows you that it's everywhere," she said.

Denning previously was named as a defendant in two federal lawsuits, filed in 2012 and 2017, along with several fellow officers.

In the first, the plaintiff said he was stopped by Denning on West Pittsburgh Street and was punched by him. The plaintiff claimed his constitutional rights were violated by Denning and others and that they used excessive force. A judge found in the department's favor.

A suit in 2017 stemmed from an incident two years earlier in Greensburg. The plaintiff alleged excessive force was used and his constitutional rights violated by Denning and other officers during the plaintiff's arrest at a vacant, abandoned home on Westminster Avenue.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2019, according to federal court records.

Denning was married in 2005. In 2016, a divorce proceeding was filed that gave him shared legal custody of his two children. The divorce was granted in October 2021, according to Westmoreland County civil court records.

Denning appeared to be involved in cornhole tournaments around the area, according to posts on social media. He donated a set of cornhole bags to a local club for a December 2021 raffle that benefited a man who was diagnosed with cancer.

He participated in Greensburg's Summer in the City dunk tank event in 2021. Proceeds from the event benefited the department's police dog program.

Denning's compensation as chief included a base salary of $108,075.40 and longevity pay of $11,888.29.

The department has 27 officers.



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Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff by email at or via Twitter .