Exclusive: Delco prison document alleges cover-up regarding inmate murder investigation

A memo written by an internal investigator in the Delaware County prison makes a number of shocking and potentially liable claims, including that procedures were not followed when one inmate, Elliot Funkhouser, was transferred to share a cell with Shad Boccella, even though Boccella had been classified as being so unstable he should only be housed alone.

The investigator who wrote the memo then went on to imply that the prison’s then-director of internal affairs, Mario Colucci, tried to hide damning evidence of the mistake.

The two-page memo was written on April 29, 2022, nearly one week after Funkhouser’s dead body was found in the cell with Boccella on Friday morning, April 23.

The memo also largely confirms the account given to Broad + Liberty by former corrections officer Norman Passarella, who went public in March with his accusations that he objected more than once to putting the two men together in the same cell, but that his concerns were ignored with fatal consequences.

This most recently uncovered memo, reported for the first time here, was written by Keith Heyward.

The Heyward memo clearly outlines that clinical staff along with Passarella had assessed Boccella and determined he was a “Tier 4” inmate, meaning he was “unpredictable and unstable according to the program checklist,” to the point that he should not have cell mates, and should be isolated during his recreation time — what the prison staff call a “house alone/rec alone.” 

It also implies that coordinator Mike Moore essentially went out of his way to ignore the “Tier 4” classifications by psychiatric nurse practitioner Nina Chychula and the subsequent warnings of Passarella. The memo does not outright state that Moore waited for Passarella to leave work that day before finally putting the two volatile inmates in the same cell, but seems to imply it.

Most startling however, is the implied conclusion that Colucci engaged in a cover-up of that information.

Heyward says on Monday, April 25, Passarella wrote his own incident report to document his objections to putting the two men in the same cell. Heyward says Passarella told him he folded the paper into quarters to make it easy to fit into a pocket — a key detail that Passarella confirmed to Broad + Liberty for this report.

Both Passarella and the memo say it was the following day, Tuesday the 26th, that he met with Colucci and personally handed the incident report over to him.

Wednesday and Thursday passed without incident but on Friday the 28th, Warden Laura Williams issued a directive to investigate the claims that Boccella and Funkhouser were not to be housed together. This sparked the investigation that resulted in the Heyward memo.

According to the memo, Investigators Heyward and another internal investigator, George Rhoades, were in possession of the main incident “binder” for the Funkhouser murder and at this point the binder did not contain Passarellla’s incident report.

Sometime later that day, Colucci allegedly approached Heyward and Rhoades and asked the two if they “seen [sic] a statement from Passarella?” According to Heyward, Collucci also said, “I vaguely remember reading something from Passarella, it’s not in the [binder]?” 

Heyward notes that “Investigator Rhoades paged through the entire binder along with Director Colucci with negative results [to find the Passarella report]. Director Colucci then stated, ‘let me go check in my office’ and exited the office.”

“Director Colucci returned a short time later with a sheet of paper, which was creased in quarters, stating, ‘You’re lucky I made copies of everything,’” Heyward continued.

Later in the report, Heyward writes:

“When questioned [later], Officer Passarella identified the Incident Report in this writer’s [Heyward’s] possession as the original Incident Report he submitted to Director Colucci by the folded creases, stating that he folded it up and placed it in his pocket between authoring it and submitting it. Identification of the original report by Passarella invalidates Director Colucci’s claim that he located a copy of said report in his office,” (emphasis added).

If the Heyward memo and its conclusions are accurate, it would also appear to point an incriminating finger at the top of the ladder to Warden Laura Williams, and possibly even higher to the Jail Oversight Board. Colucci remained employed with the prison for at least five and a half months after the Heyward memo likely reached Williams’ desk. Mike Moore, meanwhile, continues to be employed at the facility.

Warden Laura Williams

One source with intimate knowledge of the jail’s activities and procedures told Broad + Liberty the memo shows a complete breakdown of management — all the way to the top of the county.

“Colucci withheld exculpatory evidence from an active criminal homicide investigation,” the source said. “Not only should he have been fired, he should have been criminally charged.” That source is known to Broad + Liberty, but is granted anonymity because of fear of retaliation. Colucci has not been charged with any crime, and even if he were, he would be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Yet the memo is certain to make its way into the lawsuit against the prison filed by Funkhouser’s estate in March.

“It is believed…that there existed instructions and/or warnings relative to Mr. Boccella, that he was not to be housed with fellow inmates, due to his predilection for violence,” the lawsuit filed two months ago says.

Colucci, meanwhile, filed suit last November against the county for “wrongful discharge,” about a year after he was fired. His lawsuit also says he was the prison’s deputy warden of security from 2008 until 2022, at which time he was “demoted” to director of internal affairs. His lawsuit claims he acted as a whistleblower by highlighting some employment infractions to management, but was fired instead of rewarded.

Broad + Liberty made contact with an attorney for Colucci on Thursday and provided a copy of the Heyward memo on Friday. The request for comment was not returned by a Sunday deadline.

Funkhouser’s death was the first of many tragedies at Delco’s George W. Hill Correctional Facility in the wake of the government taking over management after the prison had been privately run for nearly three decades. The county government reassumed the reins of the facility on April 6, 2022.

When the county voted in February, 2022 not to renew the contract with the GEO Group, the private management company, Council Member Kevin Madden said it heralded a new day for criminal justice ethics in the county.

“We’re really taking an approach in Delaware County where it’s beyond [incarceration], making sure it’s a secure environment for the inmates, for the staff, and for the community … It’s fundamental,” Madden said in a report by WHYY.

But that optimism was soon dashed not only by Funkhouser’s death, but also by two other tragedies in June of 2022 — with Colucci figuring in both.

On June 6, 34-year old Andrew Little took his own life at the facility. Documents obtained by Broad + Liberty show that just as another prisoner alerted staff to the emergency, Little’s cell door failed to open by remote control. This forced an officer to run back to the control room to get keys — something sources have said would have cost a precious additional two to four minutes.

Two days later, a work order to fix the cell door was issued by Colucci. A source with in-depth knowledge of the prison said it’s highly unusual for someone in the role of director of internal affairs to issue maintenance orders.

Little’s mother, Pam Owens, recently filed a lawsuit against the prison. Little was mentally ill, according to Owens, and had bounced in and out of custody several times, so the prison should have known his risks, she argues.

“Despite such knowledge, [the Delaware County prison] ignored, if not exacerbated, Little’s obvious suicidal propensities and failed to take necessary and available precautions which would have saved his life,” the suit says.

About two weeks after Little’s tragedy, the prison witnessed another suicide, that of 29-year old Patrick Langworthy.

An exclusive Broad + Liberty report showed that in the wake of Langworthy’s suicide, prison staff did not reach out to county investigators as is usually the standard. As the director of internal affairs, that decision would have rested with Colucci. Indeed, a memo issued by Colucci in April, 2022, ordered that all communications from the prison to outside law enforcement agencies should flow exclusively through him.

Somewhat coincidentally, Colucci says in his lawsuit he was fired in part for failing to call county investigators about a fight in the prison — far less than a suicide.

All of these revelations come against a current backdrop of incredible turmoil for the prison.

In addition to the lawsuits for Funkhouser and Little’s deaths, the county is facing lawsuits from current and former prison employees. A group of officers who worked under GEO but who were not carried over when the county took over filed suit alleging improper dismissal.

Corrections Officer Albert Johnson is the lead plaintiff in a suit arguing that the county is violating the rights of prison union members by refusing to deduct dues automatically from members’ paychecks.

Johnson has been vocal not just in highlighting management concerns under the county’s hand, but also in asking the county council and members of the jail oversight board to investigate various allegations and circumstances that have arisen under the government’s management.

Those frustrations culminated in May when Johnson went before the board to announce that the union was orchestrating a vote of no confidence in Warden Williams. Johnson eventually launched an online petition which currently has more than 500 signatures. Broad + Liberty does not have data on how many of those signers are current employees of the prison.

In many circumstances, the county has said the employee complaints against Williams are a bargaining tactic as the union seeks a new contract.

Williams’s education background is not in criminal justice, but rather in psychology, according to her LinkedIn page. Her criminal justice career began in 2014 when she started work as a substance abuse counselor at the Allegheny County Jail. 

From that starting point, she shot through the ranks, becoming the chief deputy warden in 2018 until chosen to lead Delaware County’s prison in 2022 — an eight-year rise from substance-abuse counselor to warden, yet with no experience as a day-to-day correctional officer.

Delaware County’s current deputy warden, Adam Smith, was a longtime colleague with Williams at the Allegheny County Jail. 

Smith received a criminal justice degree in 2010, and soon after began his career at the ground level as a correctional officer in Clinton County, according to his LinkedIn resume. He transferred to Allegheny County in 2016 and worked his way up to deputy warden of operations before moving to the Delaware County deputy warden position in 2023.

Delco council members with top staff of the county prison, including Warden Williams and Deputy Warden Smith. Source: Delaware County

As Broad + Liberty has previously reported, however, the Allegheny County Jail is one of the most controversial and troubled facilities in the commonwealth. For example, an AP report notes that “a review of in-custody deaths between 2017 and 2022 found seven of 27 in-custody deaths were suicides.”

Allegheny County settled a lawsuit this spring over its treatment of mentally ill inmates, a lawsuit that was filed in 2020 and largely covers a time when Williams and Smith were a part of the jail’s top management team. Williams was named as the lead defendant given that she was deputy warden of healthcare services at that time, according to the suit.

“Mental health care [at the Allegheny County Jail] — from intake to medication, counseling and suicide prevention — was ‘either non-existent or wholly deficient’ when the lawsuit was filed in 2020, according to lawyers with the Abolitionist Law Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP,” the AP reported.

A spokesperson for Delaware County declined to comment on the Heyward memo, citing the lawsuit from the Funkhouser estate. Broad + Liberty reached out to the following members of the Jail Oversight Board: Council member and JOB Board Chairman Kevin Madden, County Executive Director Barbara O’Malley, Common Pleas Court Judge Margaret J Amoroso, Common Pleas Court Judge George Pagano, Sheriff Jerry L. Sanders, Controller Joanne Phillips. None of those persons returned a request for comment.

Investigator Keith Heyward did not respond to a request for comment. George Rhoades declined to comment. Mike Moore did not respond to a request for comment, but it is possible Moore could be prohibited by the county from making comment, as he is still employed there, and county rules and regulations often prohibit employees from speaking personally to media.

Colucci’s attorney, Tim Prol, also represents many current and former staff in ongoing suits against the county, such as the already mentioned case involving union dues deductions, and the former employees alleging they were unjustly fired. Prol is with the Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC.

The pressure from the multiple lawsuits also falls at a time when the county is facing economic pressure and is already signaling it intends to raise taxes next year — after it already raised taxes five percent this year.


Heyward Memo TIMELINE:

Unless otherwise noted, sources used to compile this timeline are the Heyward memo, the Passarella incident report, Passarella’s recollections as told to Broad + Liberty, the arrest affidavit for Boccella, and media reports. The timeline consists of some allegations that have not been tested or cross examined in court or in depositions, and so should be considered in that light. No persons in the timeline are accused of any crime, and all persons are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

2022

Thursday, April 21 — Boccella assessed by internal staff and given “Tier 4” classification, meaning house alone and “rec” alone. 

Later the same day, Classification Officer Mike Moore asks to transfer an inmate to cell block 10. Officer Passarella objects saying that all two-person cells are either full, or are taken up by a “house alone/rec alone,” and that it would be a dangerous violation of protocol to put any inmate in a cell with a “house alone/rec alone.” 

Passarella goes home for his scheduled days off on Friday and Saturday. 

Sometime that evening, Elliot Funkhouser is transferred into a cell with Shad Boccella.

Friday,  April 22 — In the morning, Funkhouser’s body is discovered dead in the cell with Boccella. Even though already in custody, Boccella is arrested under suspicion of murder. 

Sunday, April 24 — Passarella calls in sick.

Monday, April 25 — Passarella returns to work and realizes Funkhouser is dead, likely murdered. He authors his own incident report noting that he objected to the proposed move by Classification Officer Moore. He folds it several times and puts it in a shirt pocket. 

Tuesday, April 26 — Passarella hands his folded incident report over to Internal Affairs Director Mario Collucci. 

Wednesday, April 27Affidavit is filed by Delaware County Criminal Investigative Division for murder charges against Shad Boccella. The affidavit makes no mention of any controversy over how the inmates were housed.

It’s not known if the CID investigator had that knowledge of the controversy and did not include it in the affidavit, or if the investigator did not know that information at all.

Friday, April 28 — At the direction of Warden Williams, Investigators Keith Heyward and George Rhoades begin investigating the notion that there had been a classification or housing mistake. At the beginning of the investigation, Heyward and Rhoades had a binder of documents on the incident, but the binder did not include a copy of the Passarella memo, they claim.

Sometime later that day, Colucci becomes aware of the new directive from the warden and allegedly approaches Heyward and Rhoades and asks the two if they “seen [sic] a statement from Passarella?” According to Heyward, Collucci also said, “I vaguely remember reading something from Passarella, it’s not in the [binder]?” 

Rhoades goes through the binder again looking for the Passarella memo, “with negative results.”

Colucci tells Heyward and Rhoades he will “check in my office” and allegedly returns with the folded, creased original, saying, “You’re lucky I made copies of everything.”

The document Colucci then gave to Heyward and Rhoades — supposedly a copy — was identified by Passarella as the original.

Also that day, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that sources told the paper a housing mistake and overcrowding was to blame, but “[c]ounty officials disputed that and said in a statement Thursday that there was no shortage of cells at the jail and that the sources’ ‘unauthorized information’ about Boccella was inaccurate.”

Saturday, April 29 — Heyward writes memo. Concludes it was possible that “established procedures and protocol was not adhered to regarding the classification of inmate Funkhouser.” Regarding Passarella’s incident report, Heyward also concludes it was possible that “established procedures and protocol was not adhered to regarding the timely submission of all reports to appropriate Executive Staff.” 

October 14 — Warden Williams suspends Colucci for “failure to perform” — allegedly because he failed to notify Delaware County CID about a fight that occured in the prison a week prior. Source: Colucci lawsuit against Delaware County.

Nov. 2 — Colucci fired by letter. 

Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd@broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports@protonmail.com. @shepherdreports

2 thoughts on “Exclusive: Delco prison document alleges cover-up regarding inmate murder investigation”

  1. Does a week ever go by without another nightmare story coming out of GW Hill Prison? Thanks to Todd Shepherd for keeping the public informed about the Delco coverups.

    “If the Heyward memo and its conclusions are accurate, it would also appear to point an incriminating finger at the top of the ladder to Warden Laura Williams, and possibly even higher to the Jail Oversight Board.”

  2. I’m not surprised by any of this. Frankly, the prison was in better hands when it was managed by the private firm The GEO Group. But progressive Democrats took over the county council and sent the GEO Group packing. Citing it would be cheaper to run by the county and blah, blah, blah. Need I say more?

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