York Suburban's ex-superintendent applies for ARD diversionary program

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

Ex-York Suburban School District Superintendent Shelly Merkle has applied for a court diversionary program that could allow her to avoid conviction on her vandalism charges.

Michele A. Merkle, 54, of the 1900 block of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, remains free on $5,000 unsecured bail, charged with two counts of second-degree misdemeanor criminal mischief.

Jeff Marshall, her defense attorney, told The York Dispatch on Thursday, Jan. 4, that Merkle has applied to the county's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program and that her application is pending.

Shelly Merkle

ARD allows first-time nonviolent offenders a chance to avoid a criminal record by completing a set of court-ordered requirements.

It will be up to York County District Attorney Dave Sunday to decide whether to allow Merkle into the program.

Kyle King, DA's office spokesman, said the application is under consideration.

Merkle was scheduled to appear in York County Court for her formal court arraignment on Friday, Jan. 5.

But like the vast majority of criminal defendants represented by attorneys, she filed a waiver to the proceeding so she doesn't have to appear in court, Marshall confirmed.

Marshall declined additional comment about Merkle or the case against her.

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

Charging documents allege she scratched the paint on a red Volvo sedan and a white Jeep Grand Cherokee owned, or at least used, by Patricia Maloney.

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

Maloney is the former assistant superintendent at York Suburban. Her attorney, Ed Paskey, has told The York Dispatch that there's been a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" against Maloney going back to April.

Documents allege Merkle also put screws next to both vehicles' tires and state that Merkle 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.

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

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

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.

King has said investigators can't discuss the motive behind Merkle's alleged actions.

He 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.

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 and Right-to-Know Law officer, confirmed Merkle's absence on Sept. 22, saying she (Mason) would be the point of contact for administrators until an interim superintendent was appointed.

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

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.

'NOTHING goes out': On Sept. 14, the same day Merkle began what was called a medical leave of absence, Mason sent an email to school 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.'"

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.