Mertz has also been charged with second-degree felony counts of sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault by threat of forcible compulsion, a third-degree felony count of bribery, first-degree misdemeanor counts of coercion and indecent assault, and second-degree misdemeanor counts of obstruction of the administration of law and official oppression.
“A former police officer, a former corporal with the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, and you have the defendants’ name in there, Mr. [Steven] Mertz, was arraigned just 15, 20 minutes ago before Judge Colleen Mancuso out of her office in the West End for the charges which I know you’ve been seeing there, the most serious of which is rape,” Christine announced at the afternoon conference.
Christine made sure to note that the listed charges are currently allegations, and that only a jury could decide whether Mertz was guilty or not.
“These are serious allegations,” Christine said. “Rape is the most serious charge. The criminal element, as you can see from the paperwork you’ve been given, is the allegation that while taking into custody a severely intoxicated female defendant, he allegedly took advantage of her condition and her fear of arrest and incarceration and secured sexual accommodation using the authority of law and fear to secure what no one has a right to secure, by coercion and illegal behavior.”
Christine also noted details regarding Mertz’s release, including a $50,000 bail, orders to refrain from contacting the victim, and the forfeiture of any weapons in his possession.
Wagner said that both criminal and internal investigations were initiated against Mertz in the wake of the complaint.
“What I can say is that Mr. Mertz was immediately separated from the Pocono Mountain Regional Police, and that separation occurred prior to the filing of criminal charges,” Wagner said. “We certainly take this matter extremely seriously, as is obvious with the grading of the charges. Certainly, this is not representative of what me or the citizens of the Pocono Mountain Police Department jurisdiction expect of its police officers.”
According to criminal charges, the victim was allegedly pulled over on Long Pond Road for traffic violations in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 2019. The 26-year-old victim failed a roadside sobriety test, and was taken to the local Pennsylvania State Police barracks by Mertz for processing.
Testing at the Fern Ridge barracks revealed the victim’s blood alcohol concentration to be 0.147%. The victim was returned to Mertz, who told her that he could take her home if she was not required to see a judge for any outstanding warrants. On-call Magisterial District Judge Brian Germano permitted the victim to go home if she would report to Magisterial District Judge Daniel Kresge that morning.
According to Chief Wagner, it is not uncommon for an officer to escort someone home in situations such as these.
On the way to her Tunkhannock Township home, the victim allegedly told Mertz that she had been drinking excessively due to the recent overdose death of her brother. Mertz sympathized with the victim, claiming that his ‘son had died recently.’
When they arrived at her home, the victim said that Mertz asked if her parents were awake. The victim responded that her mother was likely awake, as the lights were on. A neighbor proceeded to pull in the driveway behind Mertz and the victim, though the neighbor turned into their own home.
Mertz then allegedly suggested to the victim that he would not file any charges related to driving under the influence of alcohol, and asked if she would like to go “somewhere more private” so he could help with her circumstances.
The victim told the investigators that she expected that Mertz would expect a sexual favor, and that she went along with him because she felt desperate to get out of the DUI charges.
According to police documents, Mertz drove down the street and parked at a nearby cul-de-sac, opened the passenger and rear-passenger doors, and stood in front of the victim. The victim asked if Mertz wanted oral sex, to which Mertz allegedly responded “that will help,” or something similar.
The victim provided oral sex to Mertz, and at some point picked her up, turned her around and said that he was going to have sex with her. The affidavit states that he put on a condom and penetrated her, ejaculating into the condom. Mertz allegedly proceeded to take the victim home, kiss her, and provide her with a business card with his phone number, the name of the judge she needed to visit in the morning, and the name of a towing company, and left.
The victim reported that at this time, she felt the effects of intoxication, along with concerns of an impending DUI charge and potential incarceration. She went into her home and contacted her best friend, who encouraged her to swab her mouth and vagina with cottons swabs and report the event. The friend also noted that she would tell her father, a retired police officer, about the event, and expressed concern that the victim exhibited hesitation in regard to reporting the event. The victim and her friend spoke on the phone and exchanged text messages before lying down for the night.
In the morning, the victim text messaged Mertz, asking “How do I know you are telling the truth.” While the victim was in his custody, Mertz allegedly indicated that he would not file DUI charges from the traffic stop against her, and that she should not mention the DUI at all in court, only referencing the outstanding warrant from Pocono Township.
While texting, Mertz assured the victim that he would not lie, and that she should be “polite and honest” with Judge Kresge. Mertz went on to assure the victim that she would not get a DUI, and that she should “Tell the judge Corporal Mertz said hello. He will probably laugh.”
Mertz proceeded to discuss the process of the preliminary arraignment, unsecured bail, and so forth, stating that the warrant was issued because her DUI was graded as a felony.
Mertz offered to contact the judge to “smooth things up,” with the victim responding “if you think you calling will help me then yes please I’ll definitely owe you one.” Mertz responded with “I like the way you think.”
Mertz provided the victim with instructions to go to the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department and explain that she had a warrant. Mertz assured her that she would be released on unsecured bail.
The victim later texted Mertz, stating “Yeah he set my on an unsecured bail and he told me that if I drink he’ll take it away,” and asking if Mertz told the judge about “last night.”
Mertz responded, “Omg no. That’s our secret. No telling anyone.” He later stated that he did not want the victim “locked up,” as he would be unable to see her.
The victim later stated that she saw Mertz that night, and that he gave her $400 for the towing bill, along with her license, and asked when they could meet again.
The police complaint noted that the text messages supported the victim’s version of the incident and follow-up meetings. Mertz even assured the victim that, as he did not fingerprint her, the charges would “just disappear.”
After consulting with an attorney, the victim decided to speak with Detective Serfass, expressing that “her level of intoxication and fear cause her to act out of character,” and that she was “immediately remorseful and ashamed of what had happened.” The victim also stated that she was fearful that she would not be believed.
Christine congratulated Wagner on the rapid response to the situation, stating that Wagner had promptly engaged in an internal investigation.
“He ordered his police department to immediately cooperate and work very hard to solve this horrible situation, and help gather evidence, with one of my detectives, Detective Sergeant Wendy Serfass,” Christine said.
Christine said that authorities have ordered an audit on Mertz’s cases.
Both Christine and Wagner noted that while they could not comment on his disciplinary record, they were surprised by the allegations against Mertz, who had worked with Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department for 22 years.
“This was a shock to myself, as well as the men and women of the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department, as well as the offices of the district attorney,” Wagner said.