Police corporal charged with rape
File photo of Steven Mertz, courtesy of BRC TV.
A former Pocono Mountain Regional corporal who lives in Lehighton is facing charges after allegedly coercing sexual acts from a woman while she was in his custody.
Steven Mertz, 53, is accused of using his position on the police force to press a 26-year-old woman into having sex with him in exchange for dropping charges against her after he pulled her over for a DUI charge.
The charges against the 22-year police veteran were announced at a press conference Wednesday held by Monroe County District Attorney David Christine and Pocono Mountain Regional Chief of Police Chris Wagner.
According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Detective Wendy Serfass of the Monroe County Office of the District Attorney:
On Oct. 17, Serfass interviewed a woman who said that an officer had sexually assaulted her the day before.
The victim told Serfass that on the morning of Oct. 16, she was pulled over on Long Pond Road and administered a roadside sobriety test, which she failed. The victim agreed to go to the state police barracks for processing and was then driven to the station in Fern Ridge by Mertz.
At the station, the victim tested for a blood alcohol concentration of 0.147%, well above the state’s limit of 0.08.
The victim was returned to Mertz’s custody, who offered to take her home as long as there weren’t any outstanding warrants against her.
Mertz contacted the on-call judge, Magisterial District Judge Brian Germano, who determined the victim could go home and turn herself in the next morning.
After that phone call, Mertz drove the victim to her residence. She told Mertz that her brother had recently died from an overdose, which had led her to drinking. Mertz responded that his son, too, had recently died.
Upon pulling into the victim’s driveway, Mertz asked her if her parents were up, to which the victim responded her mother probably was. Mertz then suggested he might not file driving under the influence charges against the victim and that the two go “somewhere more private.” The victim agreed.
Mertz parked in a cul-de-sac down the street. Dressed in full uniform, he exited the patrol car and walked over to the rear passenger door, where the victim was sitting. She said she asked Mertz if he wanted her to perform oral sex on him, to which Mertz responded, “That will help.”
The victim began performing oral sex on Mertz, and then he had sex with her, according to the affidavit.
After the assault took place, Mertz dropped the woman off at home. He kissed her and gave her a business card with his telephone number on it.
At that point, the victim was still intoxicated. Fearing a pending DUI charge and possible incarceration, she called a friend and told her what had occurred that morning. The friend advised the victim to first swab her mouth and genitals and then report the event. The victim was hesitant to do the latter.
She then text messaged Mertz, using the number written on his business card. “How do I know you are telling the truth,” she asked in regards to him not filing the DUI charges.
“I don’t lie,” Mertz wrote back.
Mertz added that because he had not fingerprinted her, the charges “would just disappear,” the affidavit reads. When a person is fingerprinted, it triggers notification to the district judge and an arrest entry is placed in the person’s criminal history.
Mertz further told the victim not to mention the DUI to the judge — identified as Magisterial District Judge Daniel Kresge — telling him instead that she had been picked up on an outstanding warrant from Pocono Township.
After meeting with the judge, the victim text messaged Mertz again, saying Kresge had let her out on an unsecured bail. She asked Mertz if he told the judge anything about “what happened last night.”
Mertz replied that he hadn’t.
“That’s our secret,” he wrote. “No telling anyone.”
According to the affidavit, the Oct. 16 DUI would have been the victim’s fourth, carrying with it a mandatory one year incarceration.
She said she knew when Mertz dropped her off that he wanted sexual favors to not file the charges, but that morning, she was both afraid of a looming jail sentence and still intoxicated.
Following the assault, she said she felt ashamed and decided to speak out after consulting an attorney.
Mertz has been charged with two counts of sexual assault, one count of rape threat of forcible compulsion, one count of threat of official act, two counts of aggressive indecent assault, two counts of indecent assault threat by forcible compulsion, one count of bribery, one count of obstruction administration of law, one count of rape threat of forcible compulsion, one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse by forcible compulsion and one count of official oppression.
He is currently being held at the Monroe County Correctional Facility in lieu of a $50,000 bail.
Wagner said he and members of the force were shocked about the incident, which he believed to be a one-time occurrence. However, if there are other incidents, he asked that people contact Serfass at the district attorney’s office.