A security firm run by a former city police officer who is facing stalking charges in Blair County Court has been hired by the Altoona Housing Authority to guard the downtown towers.
Regional Security & Investigations of Sixth Avenue in Eldorado, whose chief investigator is Craig Zahradnik, was hired recently on a month-to-month basis at the rate of $17 an hour to supply a single guard to cover the towers during off-hours, 40 hours per week.
Zahradnik's stalking case, based on allegations he allegedly followed his ex-wife and their two children for an hour through Altoona and Logan and Allegheny townships on the evening of Sept. 25, is scheduled for a pre-trial motions hearing later this month.
Regional Security was one of six applicants for the job, and its qualifications were clearly superior, said authority member Mitch Cooper, who agreed with Executive Director Cheryl Johns' recommendation of hiring the firm.
Asked about Zahradnik's history, Cooper - the Blair County sheriff and a former Altoona police officer - said Zahradnik had no criminal charges against him.
The next day, when it was pointed out to Cooper that the stalking charge was still active, he said that he'd thought it had been dismissed.
"Still, it isn't a conviction," Cooper said. "We're not going to change anything unless that changes."
Asked what would happen if the charge results in a conviction, Cooper said an answer would be speculative.
"We just have to see what works out in the courts," he added.
Johns, who vetted all the candidates with another authority staffer and who knew Zahradnik had a charge pending, thinks the former officer got a "bad rap."
"Right now, I'm standing behind hiring him as the best candidate," said Johns, who participated in the meeting by phone because of a recent fall injury and talked to the Mirror next day. "I think it [the matter that led to the charge] was blown out of proportion."
The authority elected to employ Regional Security month-to-month for now so it can make a change quickly, if necessary, she said.
Zahradnik probably won't be patrolling the towers himself, although he'd be ultimately responsible for his employees' performance, Cooper said.
Board member Scott Brown first questioned the recommendation of Zahradnik's firm, with apologies for bringing it up.
Zahradnik declined comment on the authority hiring his firm. His attorney, Tom Dickey, didn't return a call.
Allied On-Guard handled security at the towers for about two years but recently chose not to renew the contract, according to officials.
Allied had supplied two officers, but one should do now, because in addition to security cameras to cover the lobbies, they now cover all common spaces, Johns said.
The Altoona Police Department, under contract with the authority, handles security at the Fairview Hills family housing development.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.