Lawsuit: Pittsburgh police officer faced retaliation from Public Safety official for scrutinizing software projects

(Illustration by Anita Dufalla/PublicSource)

(Illustration by Anita DuFalla/PublicSource)

Updated 2/20/18: The FBI confirmed to PublicSource that it does not have an open investigation into the city's relationship with B-Three.

A Pittsburgh police officer filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming he faced retaliation for raising alarms about potential “waste and wrongdoing” at the police bureau. Being vocal about alleged problems with police software projects put him in the crosshairs of one of the city’s most influential Public Safety officials.

As a result, Souroth Chatterji, a native of India, became the subject of threats and racism within the bureau, according to a whistleblower lawsuit filed in federal court. Chatterji filed the lawsuit against Deputy Public Safety Director Linda Rosato-Barone and the City of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Police Officer Souroth Chatterji. (Photo via Facebook)

Pittsburgh Police Officer Souroth Chatterji. (Photo via Facebook)

For more than two years, Chatterji voiced concerns related to technology projects developed by city contractor B-Three Solutions, according to the court complaint. Chatterji’s worries were serious enough to help launch a federal investigation that he claims scrutinized Rosato-Barone.

Now, in a pointed public salvo, Chatterji accuses Rosato-Barone of trying to ruin his career, first with threats, then with what he sees as a bogus internal investigation and recently with a blocked promotion.

Chatterji, 33, joined the bureau in 2012; he is a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq.

The lawsuit claims Rosato-Barone snuffed an internal probe involving B-Three and blocked the police bureau’s cooperation with the FBI, the investigation prompted by former police chief Cameron McLay. The complaint says the investigations found that federal grant funds were used to pay for incomplete products, raising the possibility of grant fraud.

At one point, according to the lawsuit, Rosato-Barone told Chatterji that digging into the city’s relationship with Plum-based company B-Three Solutions would “lead to his ruin.”

PublicSource has been attempting to secure an interview with Rosato-Barone for more than two weeks regarding B-Three. Calls to her office for comment on the lawsuit were not immediately returned.

Pittsburgh Deputy Public Safety Director Linda Rosato-Barone. (Photo via Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Twitter)

Chatterji would not comment; however, his attorney, Alec Wright of the Law Offices of Timothy P. O’Brien, issued a statement.

“This lawsuit is about the kind of officer we want protecting and serving us, whose career was destroyed for doing what was right by exposing what was wrong,” Wright said in the statement.

City of Pittsburgh Communications Director Timothy McNulty said in a statement that the city does not comment on legal matters. However, he said the city is committed to a diverse police force and providing officers with effective technology.

"The City clearly supports a diverse Police Bureau and in the last four years has made great strides in making the bureau more reflective of the city as whole," the statement said.

According to Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, the FBI is not currently investigating B-Three Solutions or police personnel, the statement said.

Rosato-Barone is a 38-year-veteran of the police bureau; she has long been involved in the bureau’s technology projects and worked with B-Three since the company’s inception in 2006.

According to the lawsuit, Chatterji endured racist remarks by officers loyal to Rosato-Barone and by her daughter Alexis Barone-Katze, who works in the city’s Department of Innovation of Performance and has worked closely with Public Safety over the last year.

Chatterji claims he was called numerous slurs, including: “sandn*****,” “Haji” and “Muhammed.”

The complaint states that Barone-Katze and two officers, Dawn Bowen and Anthony Cortopassi, discussed that no “brown person” should be promoted in the police bureau. Further, Chatterji alleges that he overheard them saying he was “disrupting things” with B-Three Solutions.

PublicSource reporters reached out for comment to Barone-Katze, Cortopassi and Bowen. They were not immediately available for comment.

Former Chief of Pittsburgh's Bureau of Police Cameron McClay. (Screen grab from 2016 Democratic National Convention)

Former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McClay. (Screen grab from 2016 Democratic National Convention speech)

Chatterji made headlines in June 2014 when footage emerged of him striking and grabbing the hair of a 19-year-old woman at the Pittsburgh PrideFest. A city investigation, which included an independent review, cleared him of any wrongdoing and found that he did not use excessive force.

In 2015, Chatterji was asked by then-Chief Cameron McLay and Chief of Staff Eric Holmes to review technology used by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. Chatterji alleges in the court complaint that the signature B-Three system, the Automated Police Reporting System [APRS], is “outdated and likely overpriced compared to industry standards.”

That system was launched in August 2007 amid promises to put Pittsburgh’s police force on the cutting edge of law enforcement technology. Numerous sources have complained that the system is outdated and cumbersome. When reached today, B-Three President Michael Walton blamed McLay for stopping projects created by B-Three. Walton said projects were completed but not implemented, which he said is the city’s responsibility. He said the city, not B-Three, was the focus of FBI scrutiny..

An alternative to APRS, offered for free by Allegheny County, would have “significantly increased officer safety through automation” and met new data reporting standards from the federal government, the complaint said.

Chatterji, a former U.S. Army analyst, reported his findings to McLay and Holmes who then asked him to take a deeper look at bureau technology from B-Three.

At that point, things seemed to unravel. Chatterji claims he scrutinized an application to automate data on the comings of goings of police officers. He found that it was a collection of screenshots with no source code, meaning data could not actually be tracked and officers would have to manually write out their daily activity sheets. This program is required by a 2011 city statute.

The lawsuit claims the city paid for the project in full, along with programs to track evidence and to manage sensitive criminal investigations. Chatterji claims neither program worked, matching information PublicSource learned from other sources in recent months.

In all, the complaint asserts that the city spent more than $1 million on technology upgrades that either weren’t completed, could have been done cheaper and or were inferior to other options.

Chatterji’s findings and refusal to dismiss the concerns quickly earned him enemies.

“Chiefs come and go,” Rosato-Barone allegedly warned Chatterji, who’d found favor from former Chief Cameron McLay.

The lawsuit claims that Cortopassi and Bowen, who were under Rosato-Barone’s supervision, intimidated Chatterji on her behalf to stop looking into B-Three.

Cortopassi, who is now retired, is alleged to have told Chatterji that McLay’s administration was hurting his “friends” at B-Three and that he’d face negative consequences if he didn’t stop the investigation.

The lawsuit describes numerous slurs hurled at Chatterji and derogatory and racist remarks Cortopassi made about him personally in Internet chat rooms. Cortopassi left the bureau in June, according to payroll records.

When McLay announced his resignation in November 2016, Chatterji lost a powerful advocate.

Chatterji’s performance reviews suffered and he temporarily lost keycard access to police headquarters.

In a meeting with Rosato-Barone, he claims she told him “he is done with the police department” and should “find another job.”

Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims Rosato-Barone ended a city investigation into herself and B-Three and stopped the police bureau’s cooperation with FBI agents. Rosato-Barone allegedly required Nicole DeMotto, a contract employee who helped investigate B-Three, to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

DeMotto, who is no longer with the city and could not be reached for comment, reportedly signed.

Chatterji returned to patrol in Zone 2 and said his lieutenant told him not to speak about B-Three or Rosato-Barone again.

In February 2017, Rosato-Barone was promoted to assistant chief and named deputy director of Public Safety.

Since then, Chatterji claims Rosato-Barone directly blocked a promotion to sergeant despite earning top scores on the pre-promotion exam. The lawsuit accuses Rosato-Barone of telling others that Chatterji scored top on the test because he got extra points for being “Indian.”

Chatterji reports that he learned in November from Deputy Chief Thomas Stangrecki that Rosato-Barone blocked the promotion because of an investigation she’d ordered by Office of Municipal Investigations to discredit his scrutiny of B-Three.

On Feb. 16, Stangrecki responded to a Feb. 14 email seeking comment by saying the phrasing in the lawsuit is “not accurate.” He did not immediately respond to a request for clarification. Wright had no comment.

Chatterji claims Rosato-Barone has called him dishonest, untrustworthy and incompetent and that she initiated a “baseless” investigation by the Office of Municipal Investigations. He is being investigated for stealing documents as part of an unauthorized investigation into B-Three.

Today’s complaint also alleges that Chatterji was recently asked by the Public Safety spokeswoman Alicia George to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and that his career would be ruined if he didn’t cooperate with Rosato-Barone.

George did not respond to requests for comment on the allegation.

Chatterji is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and payment for attorney's fees.

McLay confirmed that the FBI investigation — which would have examined several projects involving Rosato-Barone — was active when he left the city in December 2016.

The status of the FBI investigation is unclear. The FBI will not confirm the status of any investigation. Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto told PublicSource the FBI ended its inquiry without a finding of wrongdoing, but the city has not provided details as to when it concluded or how the city received that information.

The city’s Office of Municipal Investigations is investigating matters related to B-Three. The Citizen Police Review Board is in the early stages of an inquiry.

Jeffrey Benzing is PublicSource's public safety reporter. He can be reached at jeff@publicsource.org or on Twitter @jabenzing. He can be reached securely at PGP: bit.ly/2Au8Ca9

J. Dale Shoemaker is PublicSource's government and data reporter. You can reach him at 412-515-0069 or by email at dale@publicsource.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely at PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL

Matt Stroud is a freelance reporter in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at matt@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattstroud.

  • David Taube

    Who is “Walton?”

    • hstockton

      Clarified that in the story. B-Three President Michael Walton. Thank you for letting us know.