Suburban's ex-superintendent charged; alleged victim claims pattern

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Criminal charges have been filed against former York Suburban School District superintendent Shelly Merkle, alleging she vandalized two of her former assistant's vehicles in one day on district property.

And an attorney for the alleged victim says there's been a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" against former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney going back to April.

Michele A. Merkle, 54, of the 1900 block of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, is charged with two counts of second-degree misdemeanor criminal mischief.

Michele "Shelly" Merkle

More:Parents voice frustration as York Suburban quiet on charges against ex-chief

She was not arrested. Instead, she will be sent a summons through the mail, then be arraigned and have bail set at the time of her preliminary hearing, according to the office of District Judge Jennifer Clancy.

Merkle did not answer a knock on the door of her home the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 28. It is unclear whether she's retained an attorney, and a working phone number for her could not be found.

Dismissal at York Suburban High School Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Clancy's office manager said Clancy is considering recusing herself from presiding over the preliminary hearing. Clancy previously served as a member of York Suburban's school board.

Merkle's preliminary hearing is set for 11 a.m. Jan. 10, according to court records.

York County Detective Paul Pelaia filed the charges against Merkle on Tuesday, Nov. 28, court records state.

A news release from the York County District Attorney's Office quotes DA Tom Kearney as saying, "After a thorough review of the evidence, witness interviews and a review of the law, I determined criminal charges were warranted in this matter."

The allegations: Charging documents allege Merkle scratched the paint on a red Volvo sedan and a white Jeep Grand Cherokee owned, or at least used, by former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney.

Documents allege Merkle also put screws next to both vehicles' tires and state that she admitted to damaging both vehicles in a Nov. 22 interview with York County detectives.

Maloney parked her Jeep in the high school lot on Hollywood Drive on Sept. 11, then left about 5:15 p.m. to drive home. Once at home, Maloney discovered a screw in one of the Jeep's tires, documents state.

She drove her red Volvo back to school property to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. the same evening, according to documents. The York Suburban School Board had a committee meeting that night.

About 9:15 p.m., Maloney walked back to the Volvo and found a screw placed next to one of its tires and also noticed someone had made "numerous" scratches on the trunk area and side panel of the Volvo, documents state.

Damage to the Volvo is estimated at $1,700, according to charging documents.

More damage alleged: Maloney later found scratches on her Jeep in addition to a screw in its tire, according to documents, which state total damage to the Jeep is estimated at $1,993.

A banner outside York Suburban High School Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

"In the following days, Patricia Maloney advised that she was supplied with surveillance video from the York Suburban School District," Pelaia wrote in documents.

The video shows Merkle damaging both vehicles  Sept. 11, documents allege.

Spring Garden Township Police and York Suburban School District officials have repeatedly declined comment about the criminal investigation against Merkle, which appears to have begun Sept. 11.

Motive? Kyle King, spokesman for the district attorney's office, which oversees the York County Detective Bureau, said investigators can't discuss the motive behind Merkle's alleged actions.

King said county detectives investigated after Spring Garden Township Police asked the district attorney's office to take over the investigation because of some sort of conflict of interest.

The township police department first reached out to the district attorney's office about Merkle in mid-September, according to King. The official referral was made in early October, he said.

Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz, who lives in Merkle's neighborhood, said he could not discuss details about the investigation but confirmed that he asked the DA's office to take over the case because of a conflict of interest.

York Suburban High School Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Bill Kalina photo

Other incidents? Ed Paskey, a York-based attorney representing Maloney, released a statement Tuesday morning:

"As the charging documents reveal, Dr. Maloney has been intentionally targeted and victimized through a pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation. There is absolutely no justification for, or motive behind, these inexplicable actions. At no point were questions raised about any inappropriate behavior by Dr. Maloney. Now that the truth has been publicly disclosed, Dr. Maloney and her family request the privacy that should be afforded to any victim of a crime; Thank you in advance for honoring this request. Finally, we sincerely hope that Dr. Merkle finds some internal peace."

Paskey also told The York Dispatch: 

"We provided information to the investigator concerning multiple instances of damage to Dr. Maloney’s vehicles, including punctured tires and another set of scratches to a vehicle, all dating back to April 2017. We defer all questions on charging decisions to DA’s Office and completely respect their decisions."

Asked whether he suspects Merkle is behind the early incidents, Paskey said, "My job isn't to speculate. My job is to guide Dr. Maloney through the ordeal of being the victim of a crime."

King said he could not comment on whether county detectives are looking into any other incidents of vandalism possibly related to Merkle.

The background: On Sept. 14, Merkle began what district officials later described as a medical leave of absence, although that information was not revealed until more than a week later.

During that week, the district's top two administrative posts were vacant, as Maloney's previously announced retirement took effect Sept. 15.

Corinne Mason, the district's director of finance, confirmed Merkle's absence on Friday, Sept. 22, saying she (meaning Mason) would be the point of contact for administrators until an interim superintendent was appointed.

Emails between York Suburban School District officials, obtained by The York Dispatch, appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about Merkle's sudden departure.

More:Police, York Suburban school board quiet on 'ongoing criminal investigation'

More:Released emails shed new light on York Suburban superintendent’s departure

'NOTHING goes out': On Sept. 14, the same day Merkle began what was called a medical leave of absence, Mason sent an email to board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp and other board members, telling them not to say anything about the matter to other district staffers.

"There has been the question raised (of) what goes out to the staff," Mason wrote at 3:08 p.m. "NOTHING goes out to the staff at this time. If you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, 'Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave.'"

Mason also is the district’s right-to-know officer.

On Sept. 25, Merkle — who was making $186,000 a year — submitted a letter of resignation, which the board unanimously accepted that night at its regular board meeting.

No board members have commented about Merkle's resignation.

Leopold-Sharp cited "personnel matters" and "personal health information" as reasons why board members wouldn't comment on Merkle's exit.

Public's right to know: The York Dispatch has filed requests under the state's Right To Know law to Spring Garden Township Police and to the school district, seeking information about Merkle's resignation — including a request seeking any video footage of Merkle in a district-owned parking lot after the Sept. 11 school board meeting.

Mason denied the request Oct. 31, in part because it relates "to an ongoing criminal investigation" and because it could "compromise confidential information contained the the former employee's personnel file."

Merkle's release agreement with York Suburban School District, obtained by The York Dispatch, shows she left with 55 unused vacation days, more than 196 unused sick days and about three days of unused personal leave. The total amount owed to her is $53,446.

Of that amount, $39,346 will be paid directly to Merkle, while $11,775 of accrued sick leave and $2,325 in personal leave will be paid out as a contribution to Merkle's school district retirement savings plan, according to the agreement.

On Oct. 9, the York Suburban School Board voted to hire Larry Redding as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year.

On Oct. 18, Maloney became Dover Area School District's temporary assistant superintendent.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.