Former Monroeville chief files federal lawsuit

Ex-officer sues over termination

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As political infighting and outside investigations roiled Monroeville during the past year, the municipality’‍s former police chief found himself the target of false accusations, ridicule and retaliation by elected officials, according to a federal lawsuit he filed late Monday.

Steven Pascarella, 46, sued Monroeville for denying his civil rights, failing to accommodate an unspecified “substantial impairment” under the federal Rehabilitation Act, and violating the state Whistleblower Protection Act by terminating him — all in connection with his efforts to expose fraud, waste and abuse.

He is currently engaged in a dispute with Monroeville over disability benefits.

Mr. Pascarella’‍s complaint is the second such suit against Monroeville in the past two weeks. On July 1, fired former manager Lynette McKinney used Mr. Pascarella’s attorney, Joseph H. Chivers, to file a complaint alleging many of the same themes of retaliation and violations of free speech and due process.

Monroeville manager Timothy Little on Tuesday denied that there was any retaliation against Mr. Pascarella and said his termination in April was not disciplinary. At the time Mr. Pascarella was a lieutenant, having been demoted at his request because of medical issues.

Mr. Little said the former chief’‍s doctors and a physician retained by the municipality all concluded that Mr. Pascarella could no longer work as a police officer because of his medical situation.

“There’s no retaliation towards Steve,” Mr. Little said. “There isn’‍t anything the municipality has done to him to warrant a lawsuit.”

Mr. Pascarella’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

The former chief triggered a federal investigation in 2012 after hearing concerns that Monroeville firefighters were gaining unauthorized access to protected law enforcement and medical information in the municipality’s computer-aided dispatch system.

Mr. Pascarella’‍s suit describes how an employee who cooperated with his investigation explained that police dispatchers who were also fire department volunteers manipulated the dispatch system’‍s security settings so data could be inappropriately accessed by firefighters.

Whether breaches really occurred and who was to blame for them became key questions debated by the mayor, solicitor and council members. Monroeville’‍s elected officials broke into two factions — those who supported Mr. Pascarella and those who supported police Chief K. Douglas Cole, who was demoted, fired and then reinstated.

Separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the state Attorney General’‍s office have found that there was unauthorized access to dispatch center records.

Mr. Pascarella claims in his suit that he tried to fix the problems by going through Chief Cole. But, according to the suit, the chief didn’‍t do anything.

“Rather the then-chief of police expressed lack of concern about the fire department personnel accessing the database, indicated there was no ‘‍malicious intent,’‍ and prohibited [Mr. Pascarella] from fixing the problem,” the suit said.

Mr. Pascarella claims that the mayor and unnamed council members gave rise to “false” accusations that Mr. Pascarella was responsible for the situation.

Mr. Pascarella said in his suit that the mayor and council members publicly accused him of having “contrived the alleged security breaches ... as part of a plot to have the former chief of police terminated in order to succeed him.”

Monroeville’‍s mayor, solicitor and police chief could not be reached for comment.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer.


Jonathan D. Silver: jsilver@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. First Published July 15, 2014 12:00 AM

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