MOUNT POCONO – Mount Pocono mayor Michael Penn claims someone spray painted the hood of his BMW the night of a borough council meeting.
The Borough Council met Tuesday August 24 from 7 pm until about 10:30 pm. The mayor says he discovered the hood of his luxury automobile had been spray painted when he left the borough building at nearly midnight that evening.
He’s now calling it a hate crime and claiming that the spray painting of the car at the borough building somehow caused him to fall down at his home, after which he checked himself into the hospital. He has been seen periodically using a cane since then. Soon after the meeting a Scranton news station teased a report of a “hate crime in the Poconos” for it’s late newscast. But the story was pulled without explanation and never aired. Police have decline to say if they are investigating a hate crime.
Police Saw ‘Nothing’ on Tapes
On about Wednesday, August 25, police reviewed surveillance tapes at the borough offices. Reportedly, they said they didn’t see anything of note on the tapes. It appears that the mayor happened to park in one area where the portions of the BMW allegedly “tagged” by the graffiti vandal could not be seen from the security cameras.
Later that week, Borough Manager Joshua Walker arranged with the Pocono Mountain Regional Police Department to record the footage at the borough building on Monday, August 30 – six days after the meeting. Unbeknownst to Walker, the legal custodian of the tapes, the mayor turned the DVR over to the police that Friday night.
Earlier that day, on the morning of Friday, August 27, Walker spoke with a detective from the Regional Police who wanted to record the borough security footage. Walker offered to help the detective that day, or to come in on Saturday. Instead, the detective scheduled it for the coming Monday.
Until Penn called with claims of urgency.
“You will lose the video!”
According to a person familiar with that conversation, Penn told the detective “you will lose the video over the weekend.” Penn also said Walker “refused” to preserve the video. The detective reportedly said it was a “shock” when the mayor described Walker as uncooperative because Walker was “so willing to work with us.”
The detective said they took the DVR Friday night only because the mayor insisted it was going to disappear over the weekend. “He was stressing we were going to lose the video over the weekend,” the detective was quoted as saying. When told that the device actually recorded 17-19 days of video, the detective said, “I didn’t know that.”
Let’s Go to the E-mails!
To get to the bottom of the dispute, this newspaper used the state’s open records laws to obtain a series of emails from the borough’s email records.
It all starts the morning of Thursday, August 26, when Penn asked Walker to preserve all security video from 5 pm on August 24, until 2 am on August 25. Walker responds that he will call the security system company for advice.
The next morning (Friday, August 27), after speaking with the company representative, Walker sends an email to the entire council about that conversation. Over the course of the day and weekend, Penn’s emails grow increasingly strident and feverish.
That afternoon, after Walker and the detective agreed to meet Monday, Penn claimed the police told him to tell Walker they wanted copies of all video made immediately.
“This needs to be done today,” Penn told Walker in an email. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Walker answered “I would be happy to assist the detectives in any way I can. If they need anything from me today, please have them contact me.”
Penn: ‘I am the Chief Law Enforcement Official’
After the borough offices close that Friday, Penn sent a missive to council declaring he is “the Borough’s chief law enforcement official (not officer). It is my duty and responsibility to enforce ordinances, code, and law. I will reiterate my original urgent request from my hospital bed yesterday morning, 8:05 AM, and subsequent requests through today; yet the footage has not been preserved. I will reiterate that (the) Detective called me after (speaking) with Joshua and asked me to call him and have it recorded today.”
Penn then has the police meet him at the borough offices Friday night, when he removes the DVR from the borough’s security system. The following day he broadcast an email addressed “Members of Council”. One council member reportedly called that correspondence “unhinged.” In it, Penn said Walker “is in direct defiance of police orders” and ‘insubordinate’.
Penn’s ‘Members of Council’ Email Leaves out Walker’s Reply
He also told council Walker never responded to Penn’s email saying the police wanted to preserve the videos on Friday instead of Monday.
“I called Joshua at 4:50 PM, Friday, to follow up on the request because he was not replying to my email. He did not answer, I left a voicemail message and indicated it was urgent and asked him to return my call before he left for the day. He did not. I immediately drove by the Borough Building, and Joshua was still there. Joshua has still not returned my call, despite the urgent request about a criminal police investigation.”
Penn did not tell council that Walker answered he “would be happy to assist the detectives.”
The long “Members of Council” email continued, variously accusing Walker of hindering an investigation, “obstruction of justice,” and the “loss of evidence in a criminal investigation.”
He also said that Walker was responsible for there being “no security surveillance of the Borough Building and the Borough’s assets through the weekend or at this time.”
Mayor Wanted Emails Secret
Finally, Penn threatened that anyone who released his emails or voice mails would be guilty of “tampering with evidence, hindrance of an investigation, or obstruction of justice.”
On Monday, Walker called the detective to ask about Penn’s accusations. The detective was “surprised on Friday when the Mayor described ( ) my ‘unwillingness’ to comply with police orders since (we) had just spoken and set up a time on Monday (today) to record the footage.”
“The Mayor allegedly led the Detective to believe that the footage would be recorded over during this past weekend. This is not true,” Walker said in an email to council Monday afternoon.
Mayor ‘Unprofessional’, ‘Childish’, & Wrong
“Footage remains on the DVR for about 19 days. . . . To tell the police detectives a non-truth that the footage will be recorded over in three days is wrong and unprofessional,” Walker said.
Walker defended his integrity against the mayor’s attacks, saying to the council, “I am extremely concerned with these persistent and unfounded attacks on my character and my professionalism as I fulfill the duties of this position. What the Mayor is purporting is absurd, childish, and simply not true.”
“I have survived numerous termination attempts, defamation of character, deceptive work practices, public shaming and embarrassment at these council meetings,” Walker continued. “But misrepresenting me with local law enforcement is outrageously dangerous to the Borough and the progress we have made, and crosses the line. We in this office are working on building and maintaining good relationships with all stakeholders and service providers. I ask you President O’Boyle and Councilmembers to do what you can to allow me and the staff to continue to serve your constituents without these seemingly vindictive distractions.”
The emails turned over by the borough did not include any response from Fran O’Boyle, council president. The entire email production from the borough will be available to subscribers of our website.
While we obtained the emails through the right to know laws, the borough has refused to turn over the surveillance tapes, despite what we believe to be a clear legal obligation to do so.
As a result, this newspaper has again been compelled to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records to once again compel the borough to release records to the public. The borough’s response is due September 29.
Mount Pocono Borough Council meets the first and third Mondays of the month at the borough building. Meetings are scheduled for 6 pm on the first Monday, 7 pm for the second monthly meeting.