York Suburban's ex-superintendent now facing trial

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Former York Suburban School District superintendent Shelly Merkle has waived her right to a preliminary hearing on charges she vandalized two of her former assistant's vehicles in one day on school property.

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

Former York Suburban Superintendent Shelly Merkle is now facing trial on vandalism charges after waiving her right to a preliminary hearing on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.
(File photo)

She waived the hearing Thursday, Dec. 7, in the office of District Judge Scott Laird.

Laird, whose office is in York Township, told The York Dispatch he was asked to handle the case by York County President Judge Joseph Adams after Spring Garden-area District Judge Jennifer Clancy — who previously served as a York Suburban school board member — recused herself.

Laird set bail at an unsecured $5,000. Unsecured bail means Merkle didn't have to post any money to remain free but could forfeit that amount if she misses court hearings.

Her formal arraignment in York County Court is scheduled for Jan. 5, court records state.

Merkle's attorney, Jeff Marshall, could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Ed Paskey, who represents former assistant superintendent Patricia Maloney, has said there's been a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" against Maloney going back to April.

Reached Thursday, Paskey said he wasn't shocked when he learned of Merkle's waiver.

"There's no benefit to anyone to have a preliminary hearing in this case," he said.

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

Charging documents allege Merkle scratched the paint on a red Volvo sedan and a white Jeep Grand Cherokee owned, or at least used, by 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:Suburban's ex-superintendent charged; alleged victim claims pattern

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.

"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.

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

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 a 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.

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

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.

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

Leave of absence: 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 Sept. 22, saying she (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:Parents voice frustration as York Suburban quiet on charges against ex-chief

'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. "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.

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