Pennsylvania Police official's probe could be criminal Trooper was asked to investigate commander of Internal Affairs unit

By Joe Mandak

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A Pennsylvania state police internal affairs investigator's "serious" and "intentional" omissions on a search warrant affidavit could be evidence of "criminal culpability" and a "vendetta" against the internal affairs boss he has replaced, a prosecutor said in a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Dauphin County First Assistant District Attorney Francis Chardo told state police in the August letter that he declined to file criminal charges against Sgt. Keith Jones. But he told the AP there's "a reasonable inference from all the evidence" that Jones meant to mislead the judge who issued the search warrant.

"Governance is about choosing. If there's a problem with removing a problem officer, that can sometimes be more easily remedied through the disciplinary process than prosecuting an officer criminally," he said.

The state police won't say whether Jones was ever disciplined internally and, despite Chardo's conclusions, Jones remains on "full duty status" in internal affairs and is now "acting" commander of the western internal affairs office near Pittsburgh. He has replaced Lt. Jeffrey Shaw, the target of the internal investigation and the search warrant and Jones' former boss. Though still a sergeant, Jones is drawing lieutenant's pay in his new position, spokeswoman Lt. Myra Taylor said.

Chardo's letter concerns allegations in a civil rights lawsuit Shaw filed last year claiming Capt. Willard Oliphant, head of the state police Internal Affairs Division, ordered Jones to investigate him -- which Shaw alleges violated policy because Shaw was still Jones' boss.

Jones told the AP he's unable to comment because Chardo's letter relates to Shaw's lawsuit and a related whistle-blower suit filed last year by retired Sgt. Cheryl Amodei-Mascara.

Shaw's lawsuit contends he was on restricted duty for most of 2009, removed as western internal affairs chief, then finally fired in May 2010 for his handling of a complaint against a since-retired Uniontown barracks commander. Shaw was rehired June 9, before his union grievance was heard, but remains on restricted duty outside of internal affairs.

In 2008, Shaw was told the Uniontown commander may have interfered in a child molestation investigation of the commander's politically connected friend and prominent businessman. Shaw contends the commander repeatedly asked the investigating trooper "how things were looking for 'our boy'" and told the trooper the commander would "lose his golf privileges" at the businessman's luxury resort if he were arrested. The commander also accepted an $8,000 hunting trip from the businessman's daughter during the molestation investigation, Shaw's lawsuit said.

The trooper who investigated the allegations has testified under oath that Fayette County District Attorney Nancy Vernon declined to prosecute the molestation case.

Vernon, now a Common Pleas Judge, referred questions about that case to new DA Jack Heneks, who didn't return calls.

Amodei-Mascara is involved in the complex tale involving Shaw because she had her mother call in the internal affairs complaint about the Uniontown commander on Amodei-Mascara's work phone.

Amodei-Mascara learned of the allegations against the Uniontown commander when the trooper investigating the molestation allegations was transferred to Belle Vernon, Westmoreland County, where she worked.

Amodei-Mascara said she was afraid to call Shaw herself because, according to her lawsuit, she was afraid state police brass would retaliate against her for blowing the whistle on the Uniontown commander because she had won $50,000 in a previous lawsuit targeting superiors.

That 2004 lawsuit alleged gender discrimination in promotions and a hostile work environment. A federal court jury rejected those claims, but awarded her $15,000 in back pay, plus $35,000 in damages after finding her superiors retaliated against her for making the allegations.

In any event, Shaw contends he didn't know who called in the complaint about the Uniontown commander because he didn't recognize the woman's voice and knew it wasn't Amodei-Mascara's -- which is why he logged it as "anonymous."

Amodei-Mascara's current lawsuit contends state police have retaliated against her for winning the previous lawsuit by investigating whether Shaw lied when he said she didn't make the complaint -- and threatening to fire Shaw if he didn't implicate her.

"She sues them and she won and they were determined to get her," said Susan Mahood, the lawyer representing Amodei-Mascara and Shaw.

Shaw declined comment because he's still employed by the state police.

But Amodei-Mascara is speaking because she believes the all-but-forgotten molestation allegations -- relayed to police by Fayette County child caseworkers -- deserved a fair investigation.

"It's a child and that's what everybody's fricking forgetting. Even if the (businessman) didn't do it, it deserved a complete, fair investigation," Amodei-Mascara said.

Amodei-Mascara says state police brass target those who complain about police misconduct instead of looking at the misconduct itself, a claim echoed in other lawsuits. A suit filed last year by the state troopers' union alleges internal affairs probes are used to silence union whistle-blowers while ignoring their complaints of misconduct.

"They're supposed to be the good guys, they're supposed to be the ones upholding the law. Internal affairs is supposed to be the cream of the crop," Amodei-Mascara said. "But instead of doing the right thing, they're doing all the wrong things."

State police critics are hoping Gov.-elect Tom Corbett will address those alleged problems, though the spokesman for his transition team, Kevin Harley, wouldn't specifically promise that.

"We are doing a top-to-bottom review of the policies and practices of the Pennsylvania State Police. In areas where they need improvement, we'll make adjustments, and in areas where they are excelling, we will continue to improve," Harley said.

The former Uniontown commander is identified only as Lt. X in the lawsuits, but is named as Lt. Charles Depp in the Chardo letter, which criticizes Jones' investigation of how Shaw received the complaint against Depp.

Depp did not immediately return a message left on a home telephone number listed in his wife's name.

The state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation asked Chardo to review Jones' investigation -- in particular, whether Jones misled a Westmoreland County judge when he got a July 2009 search warrant for Shaw's personal phone records -- after Shaw filed a private criminal complaint against Jones.

Jones told the judge he wanted Shaw's personal phone records because work phone records showed Shaw and Amodei-Mascara called each other the day Shaw took the Depp complaint in December 2008 and on days immediately afterward.

But Chardo found Jones omitted several key facts including that, "Depp had admitted the misconduct of which the anonymous caller had accused him." He said that fact "entirely negated" any need for Jones to obtain Shaw's phone records.

Jones also omitted that Amodei-Mascara's mother admitted making the call and had her attorney send Jones a letter saying so months before.

For that reason, "The ill-advised investigation of Lt. Jeffrey A. Shaw by Sergeant Jones, including the search warrant application for his telephone records, could arguably implicate criminal conduct," Chardo wrote.

He said one "could reasonably conclude that the inexplicable focus on the identity of the anonymous caller and whether Lieutenant Shaw knew the identity of that caller was the product of vendetta or interest in personal advancement on the part of Sergeant Jones."

Chardo also said Maj. Charles Skurkis, commander of the state police Bureau of Integrity and Professional Standards, and internal affairs head Oliphant could be accomplices if they "knew of the unlawfulness of the search warrant application" -- which Shaw alleges they did.

Lt. Taylor, the state police spokeswoman, said the officials being sued can't comment because the allegations involve pending litigation and a pending administrative investigation.

But she said Jones' attorney laid out his defense in court papers filed last month that argue he's immune from being sued because a prosecutor reviewed the search warrant and helped submit it to a judge.

As part of his investigation, Jones asked that prosecutor, Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck, to determine whether Shaw committed a crime when he recorded the Depp complaint as "anonymous." Peck helped obtain the warrant after reviewing Jones' investigative file and concluding there was "a suspicion" that Amodei-Mascara made the call.

But in a Jan. 19 letter, Peck told Jones he wouldn't prosecute Shaw, in part, because Depp "did receive a trip paid for by the daughter of (the businessman) under investigation by the Pennsylvania State police" and did make "remarks to an investigator that could be construed as inappropriate."

Even if Amodei-Mascara did make the complaint, Peck said, the "rather minor matter of not disclosing the identity of the caller does not constitute criminal conduct."

Chardo, a 16-year veteran prosecutor, recommended in his letter to the state police that internal affairs officers no longer investigate one another.

Published: Tue, Jan 11, 2011