Report: Former Monroeville police chief Cole should have acted

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 11:16 a.m.

An investigator hired by Monroeville Council determined that former municipal police Chief Doug Cole should have acted when he learned there was a flaw with the dispatch computer system.

However, it's unclear whether a violation of health privacy laws occurred, according to the internal report obtained on Tuesday by Trib Total Media. Cole, now a sergeant in the department, declined to comment on Tuesday night.

Monroeville Council hired investigator John Daley to complete the report following a complaint filed last year with the federal Department of Health and Human Services by then-Assistant Chief Steve Pascarella.

The claims against Cole, the town's longtime chief, led in part to his demotion on Feb. 1. A series of personnel changes followed, prompted by a four-member council majority at odds with three other council members and Mayor Greg Erosenko. The internal investigation so far has cost taxpayers about $36,000.

The complaint to HHS claimed there might be a violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which safeguards individuals' health care information, because of gaps in the town's dispatch computer system.

The police chief ultimately oversees the town's local dispatch system.

As part of the federal process, the municipality is required to complete an internal investigation. Part of the report was sent to HHS.

According to the report given to municipal officials in June:

• 911 center information was accessible to unauthorized individuals from August 2010 to February of this year.

• Pascarella is cited as saying Cole was alerted to the security flaw in November 2011.

• Some emergency responders and municipal officials with access to the system said Pascarella, who was then assistant chief, was the only person trained to set up the system and handle all issues that occurred with the system.

• Some volunteer firefighters were able to see information related to Monroeville police investigations.

• Had the new dispatch computer system been set up correctly in 2010, none of the aforementioned issues would have occurred.

Councilman Nick Gresock said at the July 9 council meeting that information requested by HHS should have been gathered internally.

“We could've done this in house through our manager and through our solicitor, instead of spending the money we're spending currently,” he said.

Monroeville solicitor Bruce Dice has said he advised municipal Manager Lynette McKinney to hire outside attorneys who have more experience with the federal HIPAA law.

Following Cole's demotion, he filed a civil lawsuit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court against the municipality and five municipal officials. The lawsuit accuses officials of breaching his contract, the municipality's home rule charter and the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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