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A married Pennsylvania police chief who was once celebrated as a local hero after a fireworks accident has been arrested in an undercover sting while trying to meet a 14-year-old girl he had exchanged explicit messages with online, authorities say.
Leechburg Police Chief Michael Diebold, 40, was charged Friday with unlawful contact with a minor and criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a press release.
The 14-year-old girl Diebold was trying to meet was actually an undercover agent from Shapiro’s office, according to the press release. Shapiro said the agent told Diebold multiple times he was an underage female and “Diebold sent inappropriate pictures to the undercover agent and solicited the agent for unlawful sexual contact. He then made plans to meet the undercover agent,” according to the press release.
“This case is particularly heinous because the perpetrator is a public official, sworn to serve and protect the community,” Shapiro said in a statement. “We have a zero tolerance policy for the sexual abuse of children and my office will prosecute any offender to the fullest extent of the law, no matter who they are.”
Diebold’s community rallied to support him after he lost part of his arm in a fireworks accident at a borough festival in June 2017. He has been on paid medical leave since that incident, and will remain on leave after his arrest, officials said. Mayor Wayne Dobos told TribLive.com that they will be meeting with lawyers to determine the next steps regarding Diebold’s employment.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Diebold Used the Name ‘Kutecop4you’ & Said He Is a ‘Dom’ Looking for a ‘Female Sub’ of ‘Any Age … for Ongoing Play Sessions,’ Police Say
Mike Diebold is accused of using the online handle “Kutecop4you” to communicate with an undercover agent posing as a 14-year-old girl on the messaging app Kik, according to court documents obtained by WTAE-TV.
The agent responded to an online ad titled, “Dominate male police officer seeks fun, discreet, sub playmate-m4w,” according to court documents. Police say Diebold posted the ad.
“I am a dom male that is also employed as a full time police officer. I hope that does not scare you off. I am white, straight, good looking, clean, d/d free, mentally stable and fun,” Diebold wrote in the ad, according to the criminal complaint. “I can also host or travel. I do have pics to share and I am very discreet. I am looking for a female sub for ongoing play sessions. I do not have a set type of woman so any age, race or status may email me. I respect any and all limits and you do not need to be experienced. I hope to hear from someone soon. KIK=kutecop4you.”
According to court documents, “Diebold stated that he has been utilizing the internet to post ads in the personal sections for the last several years. Diebold acknowledged to having conversations about sex with the other Kik messenger user, the purported minor in this investigation that he was attempting to meet at Sheetz.”
WPXI-TV reports that Diebold was told multiple times that he was talking to a young girl, but couldn’t to communicate, according to court documents. He sent multiple inappropriate photos and asked repeatedly for sex, the news station reports.
“He then made plans to meet the undercover agent,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office said in a press release on Friday. “Upon arriving at the designated meeting location in Westmoreland County earlier today, Diebold was taken into custody without incident by agents with the Child Predator Section.”
Shapiro said in a statement, “Thanks to the hard work of the agents and prosecutors in our Child Predator Section, one more predator is off our streets. We are working relentlessly to get every perpetrator out of our communities and to keep Pennsylvania’s children safe.”
According to Shapiro’s office, “Suspected child predators can be reported by calling the Child Predator Hotline at 1-800-385-1044. Individuals who suspect an online predator or abuse can also send anonymous tips by texting PAKIDS + YOUR TIP to 847411.”
2. Supporters Raised Thousands of Dollars for His Medical Expenses After the Fireworks Accident
The Leechburg community rallied around its police chief after Mike Diebold was injured in a fireworks accident on June 24, 2017, at the Fireman’s Carnival firework show in the borough. Diebold was trained, certified and licensed to handle fireworks, WTAE-TV reports. One of the mortars misfired, nearly killing Diebold, the news station reported. The explosion took off about half his arm and doctors told him he lost nearly three quarters of his blood.
“It was as close to death as you could be,” Diebold told WTAE at the time. “I could honestly tell you I know what it feels like to die. There was probably nothing I could have done or anybody could have done to prevent what happened.”
A volunteer firefighter rushed to the scene and applied a tourniquet, possibly saving Diebold’s life, according to WTAE. He was hospitalized for several days after the accident.
While in the hospital, the Leechburg community held a candlelight vigil and raised money through local fundraisers and a GoFundMe account, which was spread widely among the police community. The GoFundMe campaign, which has since been taken down, but was archived here, raised nearly $17,000.
“So many people have asked what they can do for Michael, including people who don’t live in the community that has rallied so generously around him,” the GoFundMe campaign said. “So, this page has been set up to help the family with medical expenses and the other expenses associated with a loved one being in the hospital. The benefit of a Go Fund Me is that you know with certainty that the funds raised will make it to the Diebold family.”
A local printing company sold shirts reading, “We Stand By Ours. #teamdiebold15656.” Other local businesses also held fundraisers.
Sara McKee, who runs a food truck, told TribLive.com she remembered him coming to her school as a DARE officer. “He’s just very prominent in the community. The best way that we knew we could give back to them quickly was if we set up our truck, in town, on Market Street, and sell our food,” she told the news site.
And, before his arrest, the community continued to support Diebold as he fought to return to active duty with the police force. Dozens of residents came to meetings held by the city council as officials tried to work out his employment status, TribLive reports.
Then-mayor Shawn Lerch told the news site, “Being a policeman you don’t get ‘good job’ or ‘thank you’ too much. That’s the biggest thank you and good job that I’ve seen in a long time.”
Diebold was recently profiled by TribLive as he continued his recovery efforts.
“When I first got hurt, I thought it was all over,” said Diebold, who was injured when a firework misfired during a Leechburg fire company carnival on June 24. “I was like, ‘What am I going to do?’ It was a dark time. I was mad, angry, frightened, you name it; and, yes, I cried,” he said in the story published in late December. “‘What about Danielle?’ (his then-fiancee, now wife). … ‘How am I going to help with the kids, Kyle and Gracie?’ Then the hospital brought some people in. They’d been through this type of thing, and they all told me life is only what you make it. And that sunk in.”
He told the news site, “Life is different. You know what is important, who is important, and you want to get back to life regardless of what you do. Understand, if I were a carpenter, I’d want to do that again. But I’m a cop, and I love serving the public … Over the years, there has been a picture painted about bad cops but not good cops. Well, the arm is an icebreaker. People want to talk about being a cop and the arm. It’s an opportunity to share.”
3. Diebold Married His High School Sweetheart in a Ceremony Officiated by Leechburg’s Mayor
Diebold married his longtime girlfriend and high school sweetheart, Danielle Reinke, just 18 days after the fireworks incident in a public ceremony near the Leechburg firehouse, according to KDKA-TV.
Then Leechburg-Mayor Shawn Lerch officiated the wedding ceremony.
Diebold and his wife have a young son, who was 12 weeks old when they married, according to KDKA. He also has a teenaged stepdaughter, according to reports.
“I decided I was going to get married to Danielle, and I was going to see my son,” Diebold said before the wedding, according to TribLive.com. Danielle Diebold could not be reached for comment about her husband’s arrest.
At the wedding, Danielle Diebold told the news site, “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Having his last name is going to be an honor.”
4. He Has Worked for the Leechburg Police Department Since 1996 & Has Been the Borough’s Police Chief for 10 Years
Mike Diebold has worked as a police officer since he was 19. He joined the Leechburg Police Department in 1996 and has been the department’s police chief for about 10 years, according to his Linkedin profile. He is also a Pennsylvania State Constable for Armstrong County.
Leechburg is located about 35 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The borough’s police department has three full-time officers, including Diebold, along with 15 part-time officers, according to its website.
Diebold had hoped to return to the department in 2018 while using a prosthetic arm, but the city council had recently continued his paid medical leave during a December meeting. After his arrest, Leechburg officials said they are working to determine the next steps regarding his employment with the borough.
Mayor Wayne Dobos told the New York Times, “Sometimes something is just so shocking that how do you describe it? What do you say? The community is going to have to heal and everybody is going to have to work together to get this all worked out. Who thinks that tomorrow we’ll say, ‘Gee, the chief of police is going to get arrested for soliciting sex from a minor.’ I mean, that doesn’t just run through your mind.”
Former mayor Shawn Lerch told TribLive.com, “I’m devastated and shocked. I feel for the family. At this point in time, he’s the least of my concerns. I’m worried about the family — the fallout.”
Firefighter John Fiorina, who saved Diebold’s life, told the news site, “I feel betrayed, manipulated and mostly more upset that his family has to endure it. I think it’s appalling what he allegedly attempted to do.”
Resident A.J. Stewart told TribLive, “I feel absolutely terrible for his wife and children — they should not have to endure the effects of his terrible decision. I feel terrible for the folks who supported him and donated their hard-earned money and personal time to his cause of his amputation.”
5. Diebold, Who Told Detectives ‘My Life Is Totally Over,’ Is Being Held on $500,000 Bail at the Westmoreland County Prison
Diebold told detectives after his arrest, “that he knew that sexual contact with a 14-year child was wrong and illegal and that his life was totally over,” according to court documents obtained by WTAE-TV.
Diebold remains in custody on $500,000 bail at the Westmoreland County Prison, according to online records. He is scheduled to appear in court January 16 for his arraignment. His attorney, Duke George, told the New York Times on Sunday that arrangements are being made for him to post bond. He said the bail amount is “exorbitant” and “unbelievable,” according to the Times.
“I represent people on homicide cases that don’t have bonds that high,” George told the Times. “Up until this point in time concerning the allegations against him, there is nothing in his background that indicates he would be a danger to society.”
Diebold’s mother, Karen, told TribLive.com, “I just want to say that people have to not blame family members like me and Danielle (Diebold’s wife). It’s hard enough as it is to go through this.”
She said the blame her family is receiving is “really awful,” according to the news site.
“If Mike did it, then he’s going to have to pay the price, but what if he didn’t?” she told the news site.