Caln Elementary deemed safe after K-9 sweep

Search for heroin heightens tension between authorities, school district

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

CASDMore than four days after authorities discovered heroin in the possession of a first-grader at Caln Elementary, “a protective sweep” of the school using K-9 officers deemed the building and grounds safe, Caln Township Police Chief Joseph Elias said on Tuesday, May 6.

In a news release, Elias said his department collaborated with the District Attorney’s Office and the Chester County Sheriff’s Office to search the school for any signs of drugs. “The Caln Township Police Department’s (CTPD) first priority is to keep our citizens safe, particularly children,” said Elias. “This crime was shocking. We are all fortunate that no child was harmed.”

School officials reportedly made the heroin discovery the morning of Friday, May 2, prompting contact first with the school district police, who then notified Caln Township Police. Tracking the alleged source of the drugs, the 7-year-old student’s grandmother, then involved contact with the Coatesville and South Coatesville Police Departments, said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan and school district officials – one of the few points of agreement between the two.

On Saturday, county detectives became involved, and Pauline Bilinski-Munion, 56, of Modena, was taken into custody Sunday night, charged with endangering the welfare of children and drug offenses. Hogan has since lambasted the school district and its solicitor, James Ellison, for their handling of the incident, criticism that Ellison has emphatically refuted.

The theme of discord continued in the Caln Township Police news release, which offered the following background on the incident from the perspective of CTPD:

On Friday, May 2, between 10 and 11 a.m., heroin was located on a student at the school, but no 9-1-1 call occurred. “If there had been an immediate 9-1-1 call, CTPD would have responded immediately to the school with police officers and emergency medical personnel, and would have notified the Chester County District Attorney’s Office,” Elias wrote in the release.

The Coatesville Area School District (CASD) Police notified Caln Police about the incident at approximately 12:30 p.m. CASD had already completed its initial investigation at the time and did not request assistance; instead they simply made Caln Police aware of the incident. Under Caln Police policies, a notification is not a request for action. If CASD had made a request for assistance as authorized by the Memorandum of Understanding between CASD and CTPD, it would have triggered a Caln Police response and investigation, the release said.

“Given the multi-jurisdictional nature of the investigation (involving locations in Caln, Coatesville, and Modena), CTPD would have immediately referred the case to the Chester County District Attorney’s Office and the Chester County Detectives,” the release said.

Caln Police had no further contact regarding the case until Hogan called on Saturday to inquire about what was occurring. Elias provided the limited information given by CASD, and Hogan started the investigation that concluded with the arrest of Bilinski-Munion on Sunday, May 4, the release said.

On Monday, May 5, Elias, conferring with Hogan, recommended a protective sweep of the school with K-9 units to make sure that no heroin was still present. Both the school principal, Mary Jean F. Wilson-Stenz, and a CASD police officer were consulted and agreed that such a protective sweep was in the best interest of students’ safety. As CTPD and a sheriff’s deputy prepared to initiate the sweep, CTPD was informed that Ellison, the district solicitor, was refusing to allow access to the school. “Ellison’s relayed message was that this refusal was the position of the CASD School Board,” the release said.

Elias put the search on hold and consulted with the District Attorney’s Office, which advised him to obtain a search warrant to complete the search. Before CTPD had prepared the search warrant, Assistant Superintendent Angelo Romaniello contacted Elias about another matter, learned of the alleged refusal, and contacted the police officers at the scene and authorized the protective search, the release said.

The search team did an initial search of the school areas where the heroin-carrying student had been on Friday with negative results, and on Tuesday, May 6, prior to the school’s opening, the search team returned with more K-9 officers and completed a broader search, involving members of CTPD, the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, and the Berks County Sheriff’s Office. The search produced negative results and the school was declared safe, the release said.

Ellison said he would like to know the source of the information that he denied access. “I didn’t deny access to anybody,” he said. “In fact, I never even spoke with anyone from the Caln Police Department or the D.A.’s Office about this,” he said.

According to what was described by Ellison as the most recent Memorandum of Understanding between the Coatesville district and Caln Township Police, a 2012 document includes immediate mandatory notification to Caln Police of certain offenses, including drug possession. The document says it must be updated every two years.

The memorandum says that “the investigation of all reported incidents shall be conducted in the manner the Law Enforcement Authority [CTPD], in its sole discretion, deems appropriate.”

Ellison said he thought Caln Township Police was handling the investigation and was stunned on Saturday when Elias told a reporter to check with the school district because its police were in charge of the probe. Elias said the school district made it clear that it did not need assistance. “We’re obligated to help, unless they don’t want us to,” he said.

Elias said he decided to organize the sweep in response to parents’ concerns that nothing had been done.

According to the criminal complaint for Bilinski-Munion, a heroin user, she left the drugs out in her home while taking care of her grandchildren, and her 7-year-old grandson found some of it, brought nine bags stamped “Victoria Secret” into Caln Elementary School, and distributed it to at least one other student.

News that “a dangerous and illegal substance” had been found at the school was delivered through a telephone message to parents on Friday evening, communication that Hogan called late and ineffective. He said CASD’s solicitor should have immediately notified his office; however, when asked, he acknowledged that no specific requirement to do that exists.

Hogan has urged anyone with additional information about the case to contact Chester County Detectives at 610-344-6866.

Elias ended his news release with this suggestion: “This matter should serve as a learning tool for schools throughout Chester County about preparing for and responding to these types of emergencies.”



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One Comment

  1. guest says:

    Just more jeopardy caused by the school board. Campbell ?
    & laurie knecht are on the ballot in the Republican primary for party office and should be defeated.

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