Deputy Director of Public Safety Linda Rosato-Barone, who in a whistleblower lawsuit is accused of retaliating against a Pittsburgh police officer for scrutinizing the city’s dealings with a technology company, denies that she used an internal investigation to hamper his federal lawsuit, according to court documents filed Thursday.
In an accompanying affidavit, Rosato-Barone indicates that an internal investigation she initiated through the city’s Office of Municipal Investigations (OMI) into Souroth Chatterji was wider in scope. Besides Chatterji, it targeted former Chief Cameron McLay and key police personnel, including former Assistant Chief Larry Scirotto. These individuals were all involved in the McLay administration’s scrutiny of software projects involving Rosato-Barone and Plum-based B-Three Solutions.
The revelation was news to Scirotto, who supervised the police bureau’s portion of the OMI staff when Rosato-Barone’s complaint was lodged in November.
“I was completely unaware,” said Scirotto, who retired earlier this year. “Nobody from the chief to OMI director Erin Bruni advised me that I was the subject on an investigation. Nor did they interview me as a subject of an investigation.”
Scirotto said he answered questions from OMI that he believed related to an investigation involving Chatterji. He only learned that Rosato-Barone’s complaint involved him through her latest court filing.
According to OMI policy, subjects of investigations are to be informed of accusations before an interview. Bruni, who is OMI’s manager in the city law department, declined to comment today through a city spokesperson.
OMI, which investigates allegations of misconduct by city employees, is controlled by the city’s law department but includes investigators and a supervisor from the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. After Scirotto’s retirement, Rosato-Barone assumed administrative control over OMI for the police bureau.
Rosato-Barone denies any interference in the Chatterji internal investigation, a position emphasized Thursday in a separate filing by the City of Pittsburgh.
“I have not had any involvement in the conduct of OMI’s investigation of my complaint beyond the statements and interviews I have provided to investigators,” Rosato-Barone said in her affidavit.
Chatterji last week filed a motion for a protective order asking that a federal judge halt the city’s internal investigation to avoid hurting his lawsuit and asked that Rosato-Barone and the city be barred from contacting him and potential witnesses in his lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon denied that request Friday.
Though OMI is controlled by the law department, Scirotto said the assistant chief who supervises the police OMI staff has considerable access and power.
“To say you would have no influence when you are one of the responsible parties for personnel would be less than forthright,” Scirotto said.
Scirotto said he worries OMI is not as independent as he previously believed if he himself had a complaint lodged against him without his knowledge.
Also included in Rosato-Barone’s November internal complaint were police chief of staff Eric Holmes and former contract employee Nicole DeMotto, according to the Thursday filing. Both were involved in the city’s investigation related to B-Three projects.
Neither responded to a request for comment. McLay declined to comment.
Rosato-Barone does not detail the reasons for her internal complaint in the latest filing.
In his February lawsuit, Chatterji claimed that Rosato-Barone is having him investigated in connection with an audit of police technology he’d been ordered to conduct by McLay and Holmes. His review found evidence of “waste and wrongdoing,” Chatterji alleged, and helped launch internal and federal investigations. Both ended without finding wrongdoing.
Chatterji, however, alleges in his complaint that Rosato-Barone had an internal investigation into herself shut down after McLay resigned in November 2016 and ended the police bureau’s involvement in the related federal investigation.
Chatterji also alleges that Rosato-Barone used the internal investigation against him to block a promotion he believes he was due.
Robert Swartzwelder, president of Pittsburgh’s police union, confirmed that Chatterji was the highest scoring candidate to be sergeant and that the union filed a grievance with the city about a month ago. He was present for Chatterji’s interview with an OMI investigator but said he could not comment.
Neither the city nor Rosato-Barone individually have responded in court to most of Chatterji’s claims but they assert that the OMI investigation has been running free of interference.
“Linda Barone has played no role and exercised no influence in how OMI has conducted the current open investigation into Officer Chatterji, nor has she sought to do so,” said OMI manager Erin Bruni, who works in the city’s law department.
She said she was not aware of any “demonstrable conflict of interest” held by the assigned investigator.
In a filing last week, Chatterji’s attorney wrote that Rosato-Barone has “directly or indirectly” used the OMI investigation to “interrogate” Chatterji and Holmes, a potential witness, on material directly related to the lawsuit.
The ongoing investigation, according to Chatterji’s court filings, hurts the court’s discovery process and allows the city access to investigative material pertinent to the suit.
“[N]either Pittsburgh nor Barone have offered any explanation or justification for why the investigation of an OMI complaint should take precedence over a federal lawsuit alleging the violation of a citizen’s constitutional rights,” Chatterji’s lawyer Alec Wright wrote in a filing today.
City employees cannot refuse to provide a statement to internal investigators, and violating that policy may be grounds for discipline, including termination, according to rules the city attached to its Thursday court filing.
Those rules, however, say a city employee “generally retains” a constitutional right against self incrimination.
Rosato-Barone’s attorney said Bissoon’s order denying the motion for a protective order speaks for itself. He did not respond to a second call inquiring about the November internal complaint.
Public Safety spokesman Chris Togneri said the city isn’t commenting on ongoing legal matters and pointed inquiries to public court filings. Wright did not return a call seeking comment.
Meanwhile, B-Three has asserted publicly that it completed work as assigned and that Chatterji’s audit that supposedly identified problems was poorly informed. The company is suing Chatterji in local court.
Jeffrey Benzing is PublicSource’s public safety reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDale_Shoemaker. He can be reached securely at PGP: bit.ly/2ig07qL
Do you feel more informed?
Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.