Monroeville receives warning, not penalty, for information leaks

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A state law that regulates the collection and dissemination of sensitive law enforcement information was violated numerous times in Monroeville, an audit by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office has revealed.

In a letter dated Tuesday to the Monroeville solicitor and copied to officials, executive deputy attorney general Lawrence M. Cherba noted that his office could have sought court-imposed penalties for violations of the Criminal History Record Information Act.

Mr. Cherba said his office decided to handle the situation administratively, however, because the violations were the first for Monroeville, municipal officials cooperated with the attorney general's audit and corrective measures were taken.

"However, we must caution that, should conduct of this sort recur, or should policies that led to these violations be reinstituted in the future, we will pursue the more stringent civil and criminal sanctions available," Mr. Cherba wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

A meeting had been scheduled for Thursday night between Monroeville officials, Mr. Cherba and David Peifer, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Special Investigations, but it was canceled earlier in the week.

Following discussions with auditors, "Everything has been handled," Joseph C. Peters, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said Thursday. "There's really no need for the meeting."

Said Mayor Gregory Ero-senko, "Obviously, [Mr. Cherba] found that there were violations; the good news is that it was corrected."

The mayor said he spoke Tuesday with Mr. Cherba.

"He said after review they did not want to get involved in the political issues in Monroeville," Mr. Erosenko said, referring to long-standing feuding among various factions on the municipal council. "My opinion is I'm glad that this was not made into a political nightmare."

Monroeville remains under federal investigation for allegations that it breached privacy law with unauthorized releases of information from ambulance calls.

That investigation stemmed from a complaint filed by police Chief Steven Pascarella in August 2012, when he was assistant chief. The attorney general's letter noted that there were two other investigations of improper accessing of protected records.

"Various individuals who were subsequently found to have improperly accessed such records were subject to discipline and were terminated from their public employment," the letter said.

Municipal manager Lynette C. McKinney released the following statement in regard to the investigations:

"Over the last 10 months, myself, Chief Pascarella, and four members of council have taken relentless public abuse and humiliation, threats, and questions related to our integrity. Because of the nature of the allegations we were forced to sit quietly.

"I am pleased that the Attorney General's Office recognizes the Monroeville Police Department under Chief Pascarella and my leadership did what was necessary and correct. We cooperated with the investigation, we held those responsible accountable, and because of the professional manner that this was handled, the Municipality of Monroeville will face no sanctions.

"Personally, this has been one of the most difficult times of my life; however, I am proud that I and those who stood with me, Chief Pascarella and the majority of council, did what was best and necessary to protect the privacy of our residents and our municipality."

The latest situation involves the handling of data collected by Monroeville police. The 33-year-old Criminal History Record Information Act sets forth procedures for reporting arrests, fingerprinting, dealing with expungements and the handling of various information collected by law enforcement.

The attorney general's audit determined the records law was violated when "unauthorized individuals" -- private citizens and members of the Monroeville Volunteer Fire Department -- accessed 911 records during a 21/2-year period from August 2010 to February 2013.

"There was, we determined, unauthorized access to Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paging and to CAD [computer-aided dispatch] records regarding police calls," Mr. Cherba's letter said. "Our investigation into this matter also found that, in at least one specific incident-related instance, official [Monroeville Police Department] records were tampered with, altered, removed or destroyed, although it did not establish the responsible individual(s)."

The findings seem to mirror those of a private investigator, John J. Daley, hired by Monroeville. Mr. Daley blamed former police chief Douglas Cole, who was fired.


Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg.

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