EASTON, Pa. | A conviction for threatening his wife means a former Slate Belt police officer and chief will never again work in law enforcement or even in his part-time job as a school bus driver, a Northampton County judge said Wednesday.
Mark Gwozdz’s life is forever altered, so what good would it do to send him to jail for even a month, Judge Stephen Baratta asked.
Baratta on Wednesday sentenced the former Roseto Borough police chief to 12 months probation after a jury convicted him in May of a single count of terroristic threats. He also ordered the 48-year-old to undergo anger management, pay a $250 fine and stay away from his soon-to-be ex-wife.
Authorities had alleged that Gwozdz in October 2019 threatened to kill his wife during an argument over a home the couple shared in Florida. He was a police officer with the Washington Township Police Department at the time. The victim reported the threat to police and filed for a protection-from-abuse order.
Before imposing sentence, the judge reviewed a pre-sentencing investigation that showed no history of violence or domestic abuse and an otherwise solid career in law enforcement with the East Bangor, Roseto, Pen Argyl and Washington Township police departments. The victim in the case did not report any physical abuse but alleged that Gwozdz – who was married four times – made “concerning statements” that she did not report to authorities, according to the pre-sentencing investigation.
Assistant District Attorney Judy Chaverri told the court that Gwozdz denied and continues to deny ever threatening his wife. He has not taken responsibility for his actions and maintains that she lied about the threats in order to “make his life miserable,” she said.
The prosecution asked for a standard-range sentence of 1 to 23 months in county jail.
Defense attorney Matthew Goodrich said Gwozdz voluntarily turned himself in when he learned of the charges and complied with pre-trial supervision for 18 months since his arraignment. A probationary sentence would be no different than his pre-trial supervision, Goodrich said, so the defense asked for what amounted to a time-served sentence.
Gwozdz did not address the court.
In response to the prosecution’s concern that Gwozdz has refused to take responsibility for his actions, Baratta said he could not take that into consideration sentencing. His defense at trial was that his wife fabricated the story, and he continues to maintain his innocence in the face of a guilty verdict.
The judge said he needed to consider the fact that Gwozdz made a “vague, ominous threat” that did not include a weapon or physical violence. In asking for even a short prison term, the prosecution noted that the threat came as Gwozdz was serving as a police officer.
The judge agreed that Gwozdz should have known better than to make such a threat.
“And maybe that’s why he was convicted because he was a police officer,” Baratta said.
If the allegations included physical violence or a weapon, Gwozdz would have been looking at prison time, the judge said. But even a short time in jail would serve no purpose given the effect the conviction has already had on his life, Baratta said.