The City of Pittsburgh wants a federal judge to throw out a whistleblower lawsuit filed by a former police officer who alleges he faced retaliation from a high-ranking official after uncovering what he saw as “waste and wrongdoing” in the police bureau.
In a Wednesday court filing, the city says Souroth Chatterji (who resigned from the bureau on June 4) made allegations that “read almost like the plot of a television show” but fails to support them beyond “innuendo” and “inflammatory rhetoric.”
Chatterji’s suit details numerous problems that he says he found after being ordered by superiors to examine technology projects Deputy Public Safety Director Linda Rosato-Barone had helped supervise as a police commander. Evidence Chatterji found helped launch city and FBI investigations, both of which ended without finding wrongdoing.
Because of his audit, Chatterji claims in his lawsuit that he faced racist insults and had a promotion unfairly blocked by Rosato-Barone.
The city said Chatterji essentially has an employment grievance that doesn’t belong in federal court.
The city also describes some of Chatterji’s allegations as “false or just flat-out bizarre,” according to the court filing. In his lawsuit, Chatterji claims that Rosato-Barone had the city’s investigation into her shut down and ended the police bureau’s cooperation with a related federal investigation. But the city said Chatterji offers “no plausible factual allegation” to explain how Rosato-Barone would have the authority to terminate an internal investigation into herself or how the police bureau could control an FBI probe.
Chatterji’s attorney Alec Wright declined to comment.
A motion to dismiss filed late Wednesday by Rosato-Barone’s attorney says that Rosato-Barone “denies that she engaged in any discriminatory or retaliatory conduct directed at Officer Souroth Chatterji and denies any wrongdoing.”
At the heart of Chatterji’s lawsuit are details of a technology audit he was ordered to conduct in 2015 by then-Police Chief Cameron McLay. The city describes Chatterji at that time as “a relatively new third-year officer.”
Chatterji claims his audit revealed serious problems with technology created by the Plum-based contractor B-Three Solutions. For instance, he alleges in the lawsuit that the city fully paid B-Three for key police systems that were either not completed or not implemented. The city does not address those allegations.
A brief filed Wednesday by Rosato-Barone states that the “overwhelming majority” of Chatterji’s lawsuit “asserts baseless and untrue allegations concerning the audit of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s information technology system, in which Plaintiff was involved.”
In March, Chief Scott Schubert confirmed to PublicSource that the three systems Chatterji outlined were never implemented. City payment records reveal that the systems were fully paid for in 2013 and 2015.
Chatterji further alleges that he overheard racist insults against him by officers loyal to Rosato-Barone and also by Rosato-Barone’s daughter. The city, however, said his lawsuit fails to say whether the city investigated and “made factual determinations” about the insults.
Chatterji's lawsuit also states that Rosato-Barone said he received extra credit in the promotion screening for being Indian and was not promoted because he didn’t understand “American ways.” Chatterji earned the top score in the promotion screening process.
In May, Chatterji filed an amended complaint that alleges Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich “adopted the racially discriminatory comments” made by Rosato-Barone and blocked Chatterji’s promotion.
The city claims that Chatterji fails to plausibly show that Hissrich has anti-Indian or anti-immigrant animus and links Hissrich to alleged racist insults with“legal conclusions and innuendo.”
The city also claims that, at the time of Chatterji’s resignation, he was in the midst of a union grievance process over his non-promotion. That process included an initial meeting with a police bureau official and union representatives in March, though Chatterji alleges that he was never provided a hearing.
Chatterji has not publicly given a reason for his resignation. The city brief does not say either, though it references allegations made recently by attorney Allison Reynolds. Reynolds claims that Chatterji inappropriately communicated with her client, a woman Chatterji arrested in March.
Reynolds said she viewed texts between an officer and a person they’ve arrested as “concerning” but said none of the content in the communications with her client was sexual or intimidating in nature. Chatterji’s attorney described the allegations as “utterly baseless” to a Tribune-Review reporter.
The president of Pittsburgh’s police union said officers often communicate with people they’ve arrested, and that it’s the content of the communications that matters. Neither Chatterji nor Reynolds have publicly shared the texts.
The Citizen Police Review Board, a city watchdog agency, is looking into allegations made by Chatterji in the whistleblower lawsuit.
B-Three Solutions contends that Chatterji’s allegations against its products are “completely untrue” and that the company completed its projects as commissioned. In April, the company filed a writ of summons against Chatterji in local court, alleging defamation.
Meanwhile, Chatterji has himself been the target of an internal investigation for “theft and other things,” according to his lawsuit, which describes the probe as retaliation for his good-faith audit.
In a May 17 court filing, Rosato-Barone revealed that she filed an internal complaint against Chatterji, McLay and three other current and former police employees in November. Though Rosato-Barone's filing does not detail the allegations, the police employees were all involved in scrutinizing her technology work.
A recent filing from the city’s law department in PublicSource’s ongoing open records appeal describes the most recent Office of Municipal Investigations [OMI] investigation as relating to possible “leaking of confidential information” by city employees.
Rosato-Barone now helps manage the city’s OMI, though she was not in that role when she lodged her complaint.
Editor's note: This story was updated on 6/14/18 to include new information from Rosato-Barone.