A former part-time Washington Hospital police officer filed a federal whistle-blower lawsuit last week claiming the health system terminated him after he brought up concerns to the hospital’s leadership about a toxic work environment and other alleged issues within the police department.
Mark Kolakowski alleges the hospital’s police department had missing evidence from its property locker, accepted fraudulent firearms training documents and altered official police reports.
Kolakowski, who lives in Beaver County, only worked for the hospital’s police department for two days, spending one day in orientation and arriving for his first day of work July 3, but wasn’t scheduled to work again. But he claims he brought up his concerns he heard from other police officers about systemic problems within the department during a meeting with WHS CEO Brook Ward the following week, only to be terminated in late July.
“A lot of this information was reported to him. Being a police officer, he was under a duty to report malfeasance,” said his attorney, Lawrence Bolind Jr., who noted that Kolakowski also serves as a Centerville police officer. “The evidence he’s seen was from other people. ‘There’s a problem. Here’s what happened.’ When he reviewed the evidence, he found a problem and that’s what he reported.”
The lawsuit, filed last Friday, claims the hospital system retaliated against Kolakowski by issuing a letter Oct. 30 that was copied to several other people in which the health system’s attorney accused him of libel and slander, while also possibly violating state ethics laws while serving as a constable in Beaver County. In the letter, hospital attorney Phillip Binotto wrote that Kolakowski falsely claimed the police department was under investigation and made false statements about police Chief Bernard Merrick.
Kolakowski said in the lawsuit he brought his claims of problems within the hospital’s police department to Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone last year. Vittone said Tuesday he recalls his detectives communicating with Kolakowski, but no charges were ever filed and he considered the matter to be closed.
Washington Health System issued a statement Tuesday denying Kolakowski’s claims in the lawsuit and noted he worked for the police department for less than two full days.
“It is our general policy to refrain from comment in relation to pending lawsuits,” hospital officials wrote in an email to the Observer-Reporter. “In this circumstance, we are compelled to affirm that Washington Health System acted appropriately in all respects and that the claimant worked two days for our system; one day in orientation and one half-day as an officer. We will defend this matter with vigor and resolve.”
Kolakowski is asking for more than $2 million in damages along with legal fees and back pay with interest since July 3.
Kolakowski’s federal lawsuit piggybacks off another lawsuit filed in Washington County Court in October by former police officer Justin Galvin claiming similar problems with the hospital’s department.
That lawsuit claims that public records were tampered with, evidence was missing or fabricated and a surveillance camera was placed in the locker room. The lawsuit also alleges Assistant Chief Mark Pompe took drug evidence from a secured locker in February 2020, but later returned it after bringing it from his personal vehicle when Galvin raised concerns.
Galvin said he was then demoted from sergeant to patrolman following a meeting with Merrick and Pompe, claiming the discipline was for a previous incident in 2019, the lawsuit alleges. Galvin claims in the lawsuit he brought the issue to hospital leadership, but he was terminated a month later.
In a legal filing responding to Galvin’s lawsuit, the hospital’s lawyers denied the health system violated the state’s Whistleblower Law because it is not a public entity. The response also claims Galvin did not properly explain to the hospital’s leadership whether there was illegal activity within the police department.
Pompe could not be reached for comment and the hospital declined to say whether he was still employed as assistant police chief. WHS declined to comment on the Galvin lawsuit.
Washington Hospital transitioned its security staff into an Act 501 department in 2016, allowing it to provide police services for the nonprofit.