Just six months ago, after Michael Diebold lost his left hand and part of his arm in a fireworks accident, he became a local celebrity.
The police chief of the small Pennsylvania town of Leechburg drew sympathy from community members, some of whom raised funds to help with Diebold’s medical expenses. A church hosted a fundraising dinner, while others sold T-shirts that said: “We Stand By Ours. #teamdiebold1565.”
Just 18 days after the accident, Diebold got married and about 200 people attended the ceremony. He smiled at his bride, who was dressed in an off-the-shoulder white dress, as she placed a wedding band on his right ring finger, and attendees raised their phones to catch the moment.
Diebold made the news again recently. This time, he wasn’t smiling — and it’s unlikely that anyone in the town of 2,000 was.
The 40-year-old has been accused of soliciting sex from a teenage girl online. He was arrested Friday on felony charges, including unlawful contact with a minor and criminal attempt to commit involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Both are first-degree felonies.
“This case is particularly heinous because the perpetrator is a public official, sworn to serve and protect the community,” state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement. “We have a zero tolerance 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.”
The arrest followed an investigation that involved an undercover officer who posed as a 14-year-old girl, authorities said. The investigation began after Diebold, using the username KuteCop4You, posted an ad on a social-media app, CBS affiliate KDKA reported, citing the criminal complaint. Authorities said he and the undercover agent talked multiple times, with Diebold sending inappropriate photos and asking to meet for sex.
Diebold was arrested after he showed up at the meeting location. He then admitted that he’d been posting personal ads online for several years and acknowledged talking about sex with the purported 14-year-old, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, citing the complaint.
“Diebold admitted that he knew that sexual contact with a 14-year-[old] child was wrong and illegal and that his life was totally over,” the complaint said.
Leechburg Mayor Wayne Dobos said the allegations shocked many in the town, including him, who did not know that Diebold may have had a secret life.
“We’ve had enough notoriety in town, and something like this, we didn’t need at all,” Dobos told The Washington Post.
Media coverage around Diebold began in June, when he was handling fireworks during an event, and one piece misfired and exploded on him, his mother, Karen Diebold, told the Post-Gazette. Diebold, who is also a fireworks business owner, lost nearly his entire left arm.
Controversy followed as Diebold tried to get back on duty months later. He told KDKA in December that he was ready to return to work. Doctors had cleared him and the state had recertified his firearms license, but town officials told him that he couldn’t go back just yet and placed him on paid leave. Diebold threatened to sue.
Dobos said the Leechburg Borough Council wanted Diebold back at the police department, which employs only three full-time officers, including the chief, and several part-time employees. But he said Diebold needed to first take a physical test to ensure he’s able to perform his duties. Lawyers representing Diebold and the town were finalizing what those tests would be when he was arrested, Dobos said.
Diebold, who’s in the Westmoreland County Jail on a $500,000 bond, is scheduled for a hearing on Jan. 16. Online court records show that he did not ask for a public defender but do not list an attorney for him.
Town officials have not figured out who will fill Diebold’s job. Dobos said the other two full-time officers have been sharing Diebold’s duties over the past months.
“This is a very, very rare instance,” Dobos said. “We got to play everything by ear.”