Fired Plum police officer's status as employee remains uncertain after case dismissed
The future of a fired Plum police officer remains uncertain after a judge threw out a criminal charge filed against him.
Plum District Judge Linda Zucco on June 11 dismissed a charge of unlawful use of a computer brought by the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office against Jeremy J. Cumberledge, 31, of Browntown Road in Plum after nearly two hours of testimony by borough officials.
The district attorney's office said Cumberledge, a Plum patrolman for seven years, “intentionally viewed and accessed files within areas of the Plum Borough computer network to which he had no authorization,” district attorney's office Detective Lyle Graber wrote in a criminal complaint filed in April when Cumberledge was charged.
The files included those assigned to former police Chief Frank Monaco, current Chief Jeffrey Armstrong, other officers, borough administrative staff and other employees from 2010 through Jan. 11, Graber wrote.
Manager Michael Thomas has said the breach did not involve any resident information, such as tax records. Rather, the computer system contains records for the borough's 67 employees.
Cumberledge had no comment after the hearing.
Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney, said no decision has been made whether to refile the charge.
Meanwhile, Cumberledge is seeking unemployment compensation from the borough, according to attorney Ronald H. Heck, one of Cumberledge's lawyers.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 91 attorney Ron Koerner said a date for Cumberledge's arbitration hearing over his firing has not been set.
“It is too early to tell what we are going to do,” Koerner said. “We have to wait to see what happens (with the district attorney's office decision). We are delighted to hear (that the charge was dismissed). It is wonderful news.”
During last week's hearing, Michael DeRiso, Cumberledge's attorney, successfully argued that Cumberledge did nothing wrong because the former officer wasn't told he shouldn't view the files and there were no restrictions in place to prevent borough employees from accessing files.
“Prior to the fix, anyone could have viewed the documents we are speaking of,” DeRiso said. “There was no special authorization to view the documents. It was an open network with unrestricted access.”
Armstrong testified that it was “common sense” that Cumberledge should not have accessed the files.
“When you look at someone else's personal documents, one would know it is not appropriate,” Armstrong said.
Under questioning by DeRiso, Thomas agreed that restricting access to the borough's computer network cost no funds other than the technology director's time to put the measure in place. The work was done once Plum staff members discovered that Cumberledge accessed borough files.
“It took a couple key strokes by the IT (information technology) guy,” DeRiso said.
Thomas answered, “yes.”
Assistant district Attorney Jon Pittman argued that Cumberledge was authorized to use the computers in the police department “for law enforcement only, official police business only. It would have been clear to the defendant that the information he had (accessed), looking at the chief's salary, other people's medical histories and (bank) routing information had nothing to do with law enforcement.”
Plum Council fired Cumberledge on March 11; he was suspended with pay on Jan. 11 for what officials called a breach of the municipal computer system.
Plum Councilman Leonard Szarmach doesn't want Cumberledge back on the force.
“I am absolutely concerned about (the possibility of) him (Cumberledge) returning to work,” Szarmach said. “It would not be healthy.”
Cumberledge's attorney said his client would not comment on the case.
Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or firstname.lastname@example.org.