Is it time to close the chapter on the Police Department investigation?
When I first read about two police officers not showing up at a criminal hearing in Tredyffrin, I admit I had many questions, which only increased as I learned more of the people and circumstances surrounding the situation. The case may have gone by unnoticed were it not for the fact that the individual arrested in this case was Suzy Pratowski, a township Zoning Hearing Board member and socially linked to a township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro. In the last few days, we learned that Pratowski had an arrest in June 2010, charged with DUI and child endangerment. For the record, the child endangerment charge was dropped and although she plead guilty to the DUI.
Many of us had questions about this case, including why was the Pratowski case was moved from Judge Sondergaard’s (D) court to Judge Tartaglio’s (R) court. Pratowski, until May of 2012 served as a local GOP committeewoman and the change of courts suggested political motives. Why was this case continued from July to August … the continuance making it more difficult to understand why the two police officers did not show at the August hearing. Without the police officers in attendance at the August 21 hearing, the Judge decided a ‘not guilty’ decision for Pratowski, case closed. Why and how could this have happened?
In trying to come up with some answers, I did not set out to do my own investigation. However, after the last three days, I am feeling like a cross between a freshman law clerk and a Lt. Colombo. In the course of 72 hours, I have had extended phone conversations with Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors Chair Michelle Kichline and thorough discussions with District Court Judge Tom Tartaglio and Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Andy Giaimo. Previously, I have shared my discussion with Hogan on Community Matters.
My next conversation occurred with Ms. Kichline. I learned that in addition to a review of the internal police investigation by the District Attorney’s office, she had personally conducted her own review. Like many of us, Kichline questioned how it could happen that township police officers did not show up for a hearing, etc. Although certainly not pleased with the situation, Kichline (like Hogan) was satisfied that the ‘clerical error’ or more correctly, the human error rested solely with the two police officers. Appreciating that there was a perception in the public, me included, that there must be more to this story, Kichline suggested that if I had further questions or needed information regarding how the police receive court notifications, that Police Chief Supt. Giaimo would be happy to discuss it.
Police Chief Supt. Giaimo generously changed his schedule to meet with me yesterday. Before going to the police department, I went to the District Court to ask for copies of any public documents surrounding this case. In the process of explaining my request to the clerk, Judge Tartaglio thought he heard my voice, and came to the front lobby to talk with me. Having read some of the misinformation in comments on Community Matters, Judge Tartaglio truly wanted me to understand the facts from the District Court side. An unexpected opportunity for me, I found Tartaglio open and honest in his responses. We had a lengthy 30 min conversation and I received copies of public documents in the three Pratowski cases (two criminal and one non-criminal). I will highlight some of the misconceptions that some of us may have had surrounding the case.
First off, the Pratowski hearing was originally scheduled for Judge Sondergaard’s court. At the request of Judge Sondergaard, the case was transferred out of her court (not at the request of Pratowski). Stated reason for the transfer by Sondergaard – she knows the plaintiff. As a point of clarification, when a Judge requests the transfer of a case, the request is sent to the County and they decide the disposition of the hearing. It is not a given that cases are transferred between Sondergaard and Tartaglio although because of geography, the county generally tries to keep the cases convenient for those involved.
Next point, how does the Police Department receive notifications of hearings from the District Court? Each day, either a Tredyffrin police officer or a Police Department employee, physically comes to the District Court and picks up the communications. Notifications are not mailed to the Police Department. (I will explain the Police Department handling of the District Court mail shortly).
Much discussion on Community Matters stemmed from what happened on the August 21 court date. Who was at the hearing and who was not at Pratowski’s hearing. There were six people expected to be at the hearing, the two police officers (Allen Dori and Dan McFadden) Pratowski and her attorney, Vince DiFabio, Pratowski’s ex-husband Jay Ciccarone and a witness. The ‘witness’ was something new I learned from Judge Tartaglio … the witness was a neighbor of Ciccarone who saw Pratowski pull the flowers from Ciccarone’s property and gave a statement to the police. To this point, I was not aware of a witness. Ciccarone was claiming $200 in damages for the landscaping, which is why he would have needed to attend the hearing. Pratowski, DiFabio and the witness (I have his name but don’t feel it’s necessary to name him) showed up but Ciccarone, Dori and McFadden did not show-up. I later learned from Supt. Giaimo that criminal cases are typically scheduled for Fridays – this hearing was a Tuesday, which caused some confusion for the police officers, and apparently also for Ciccarone.
Judge Tartaglio showed me the courtroom and a typical schedule for hearings – yesterday there were 7 or 8 cases all scheduled for 9 AM. He explained that everyone scheduled for that time shows up at the same time, some cases are very quick, such as granting a continuance, and they can go quickly through the list. Sometimes people don’t show up and cases are dismissed. In the Pratowski hearing, why wasn’t the case dismissed rather than a not guilty verdict. Judge Tartaglio explained that it was his prerogative to make that decision. We discussed that the plaintiff was paying her attorney to attend this hearing and the witness had to take time off from work to attend, was it fair that they should have to go through this again. There was no evidence presented in the case because the prosecution did not attend — Judge Tartaglio stands behind his decision of ‘not guilty’.
I asked about why didn’t someone call the police department and Judge Tartaglio’s response was that typically it is the police officers who call in to the court when they are running late, explaining that they are delayed due an emergency, etc. and the Judge is willing to wait, when required.
My overall takeaway from my visit to the District Court and discussion with Judge Tartaglio – an organized, well-managed office with a Judge that is forthcoming, honest and committed to doing a good job. He wanted me to mention that if he had an emergency, the two police officers he would want helping would be Dori and McFadden! I want to publicly thank Judge Tartaglio for his time and willingness to explain the court procedure. I think he believed that if I understood the process, I could explain it correctly on Community Matters.
Leaving the District Court, I went to the Tredyffrin Township Police Department to meet with Police Supt. Tony Giaimo. I described my previous conversations with DA Hogan, BOS chair Kichline and District Judge Tartaglio, and that all roads came back to the police department. I offered that as a result of this particular situation, there is a negative perception of the Police Department by some, and that many residesnts are concerned that we do not have the full story. Supt. Giaimo understood my concerns and was completely open and willing to explain the process, including what went wrong and how the process has been corrected. Again, I will offer the highlights of our hour discussion. First off, has this situation ever occurred where a police officer(s) did not show up a public hearing? Since becoming police chief nine months ago, the answer is no. Before that point, I did not think it fair to expect Supt. Giaimo to know when or how often something similar had occurred. It is important to note that it had not previously happened under his watch. Giaimo did offer that there could be a situation where a police officer was unavailable to attend due to an emergency, etc. and that a replacement may have to go. Fair enough, he further stated that had he known that the police officers were not going to the Pratowski hearing, he himself would have attended.
Were the police officers notified of the August 21 hearing date? Yes, the hearing continuance was received by the Police Department, the information correctly entered at the front office and the original notifications put in the police officers box. Here was a problem, at least one of the officers had a full mailbox and the notice was buried in the paperwork. I asked and was told, that the internal Police Department does not have a computerized master calendar. I suggested to Supt. Giaimo that perhaps the system needed to change and automate.
The police officers do not have BlackBerrys (or anything similar), they transfer the hearing notifications into their daily planners. According to Giaimo, unfortunately, neither police officer had the August 21 date in their daily planners. I told him that it would be a lot easier to believe this human error, if it was one rookie cop involved rather than two seasoned career police officers, he agreed.
On to the investigation and review by the Police Department – I learned that the department has an Internal Affairs Officer who conducted the investigation. The report was reviewed by the District Attorney’s office and by BOS Chair Kichline. Because of his association with Pratowski, BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro was interviewed; an entire page of questions were asked. The investigation concluded that the supervisor was not involved.
Something that Supt. Giaimo volunteered which I found interesting … Giaimo’s immediate thought when he found out that the police officers had missed the Pratowski hearing was that the Police Department would re-file the case. However, he quickly learned that due to Judge Tartaglio’s ‘not guilty’ verdict rather than a dismissal, the Pratowski case was closed and the option to re-file the case was no longer available.
Bottom line, not one but two police officers failed to show for this August 21 hearing, the day following their attendance at the Board of Supervisors meeting marking their promotions. Unfortunately, that is what happened, so were the officers reprimanded. Yes, Supt. Giaimo explained that both received written reprimands and the permanent personnel files of the two police officers contain this information. This was an important turning point for me … there is no way that I think that these two officers were influenced by a third-party not to show up at this hearing. It would not be worth the price tag of a permanent blemish on their records to ‘help out’ or ‘do a favor’ .
Where does the Police Department go from here? I told Supt. Giaimo that this unfortunate situation is more than just about two police officers making a mistake … it becomes a dark cloud for the Police Department. He fully appreciates the seriousness of the situation and the public perception – if I was a betting person, I am about 100% positive that this situation will never occur again. I asked what changes have been implemented internally to the system to lessen the chances of a repeat performance. Supt. Giaimo responded that he immediately added additional safeguards to the process. Prior to the August 21 hearing, there were three steps in the process – (1) Log in of all District Court notices by Police Department personnel, (2) Clerk then enters notices in Share Point and (3) Paper copy of notices put in to appropriate officer’s mailboxes. Two additional steps are now in place – (4) Hearing notices are read out loud daily at the beginning of each shift change and (5) Police Department supervisors review daily the time schedules of all their officers. The additional steps should guarantee that this type of situation does not occur again.
In closing, I am completely satisfied that this was a case, unfortunately of human error; — a situation complicated by the fact that the individual involved was a public official (a member of the Zoning Hearing Board) and that there were two officers involved versus one. In the end, it was a mistake and I know one that will not be repeated.
I am grateful to Supt. Tony Giaimo, District Judge Tom Tartaglio, BOS chair Michelle Kichline and District Attorney Tom Hogan for their candor, openness and honesty. Each of them supported my effort to find answers and understood the importance of the public’s right to know the facts. Answers to the questions were provided with the complete understanding and support that the information would be shared on Community Matters.
I hope that all who read the above narrative, come away with a positive feeling about these four individuals (Tom Hogan, Michelle Kichline, Tom Tartaglio and Tony Giaimo) and the parts of our local government that they represent – I believe that these individuals respect the citizens of Tredyffrin and are trying to do ‘what’s right’ by us.
Unfortunately, as I was completing this exhaustive summary, I was told of an open letter to the citizens, penned by BOS supervisor John DiBuonaventuro. Apparently, DiBuonaventuro does not support Main Line Media News, Community Matters or the civil rights of citizens to express their opinions on this topic. Below is the last paragraph of DiBuonaventuro’s letter, click here for the full text. The tag line for Community Matters is “Your Voice Matters, Join the Conversation” and I stand behind it … we, as the community do matter and your voice does count!
“I strongly believe in “freedom of speech,” but not in “freedom of defamation.” I believe the “Community Matters” blog began with good intent, but it has, for whatever personal reasons and misguidance, mestastasized into a channel of direct personal attacks on individuals in public service and/or its entities. Almost all who have participated in those unsubstantiated allegations, criticisms, and false accusations remain cowardly anonymous. I also question if they would have the fortitude and stamina to engage in a one-on-one campaign for elected office let alone serve in a position with little or not pay, full responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens they serve, and which appears to offer nothing more than continuous ridicule in return.
I have closed the chapter on the police investigation but it looks like Supervisor John DiBuonaventuro has opened a new chapter. I am saddened that supervisor DiBuonaventuro has taken such a negative view of me, Community Matters and of those citizens who comment on Community Matters, whether anonymously or not. For the record, I was the one who clarified the perception that readers could have from the Main Line Media News story due to the associated photo of DiBuonaventuro and Pratowski. I explained on Community Matters that the unnamed male was not DiBuonaventuro but according to the police report, an attorney from Haverford. Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings has posted the DiBuonaventuro’s letter and asks the question, is the letter a “threat”? Read it and you be the judge. In my world, community and our voice does matter!