Bucks County officials shed light on how and why Cosmo DiNardo's gun charge was dismissed

A law enforcement official escorts Cosmo DiNardo.

In the year since confessed killer Cosmo DiNardo was involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility, Bensalem Police made contact with him 14 times, according to Public Safety Director Fred Harran. Only one encounter resulted in an arrest.

Questions remain about the 20-year-old man’s troubled past since his confession to the murders of four young men on his parents’ Solebury Township farm – including 40 encounters with Bensalem police, a July 2016 involuntary commitment to a mental-health facility, his banishment from the campuses of Holy Ghost Prep and Arcadia University last fall, and the February gun charge that was later dismissed.

Harran said Thursday Bensalem police had already had about 26 interactions with DiNardo before July 2016, the month he was committed.

Then, on July 12, 2016, DiNardo was involuntarily committed to a mental-health facility after an evaluation by Lenape Valley Crisis services in conjunction with a visit to Doylestown Hospital, according to court documents. His mother, Sandra DiNardo, committed him, according to Bucks County Assistant District Attorney Gregg Shore.

Sometime in July 2016, Solebury police responded to a verbal altercation between DiNardo and his mother inside a car near Aquetong Road, Solebury Township Police Chief Dominick Bellizzie said earlier this week. Police would not provide specifics on the incident, citing health privacy concerns.

In Pennsylvania, a person can be involuntarily held for up to 120 hours (five days)  for evaluation by two physicians, if ordered by a county mental health officer. The hospitalization can be extended another 20 days if physicians present evidence the person should continue to be held. It is not known how long DiNardo was involuntarily committed.

Those 14 post-commitment contacts with Bensalem police include one made after DiNardo was banned from his alma mater, the Catholic boys school Holy Ghost Prep, for being disruptive at an Oct. 23 open house for prospective students.

Police in Solebury – where his family owned properties including the farm – said they had few run-ins with him, aside from the July 2016 domestic call on which they could not elaborate.

Authorities gave different, complicated versions of what caused a magisterial judge to eventually throw out the gun charge on May 30. At issue was the completeness of the involuntary-commitment paperwork. The charge was refiled last week as DiNardo became a person of interest in the four men’s disappearance.

Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia said Thursday that police – in preparing documents for DiNardo’s preliminary hearing – had originally requested the involuntary-commitment paperwork from the wrong source.

That series of events started on Feb. 9, when someone called Bensalem police to report a man getting into a 2008 Cadillac with a shotgun, Harran said.

Officer Katherine Bailey spotted a Cadillac matching the description out on the road, pulled it over, and found the driver, DiNardo, to in fact be in possession of a Savage Arms 20-gauge shotgun.

DiNardo told police he had been involuntarily committed, according to court documents. The state prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed from possessing firearms, so DiNardo was arraigned on a felony charge, but not held in jail, Harran said.

In preparation for the preliminary hearing, which was ultimately delayed three times, the police asked a judge to subpoena involuntary-commitment paperwork from Lenape Valley Crisis services, which evaluated DiNardo, court records show.

But Lenape Valley would never have had that completed paperwork, Ellis-Marseglia said. After evaluating DiNardo, Lenape Valley would have filled out part of that form and then sent it to DiNardo’s inpatient facility, where it would be completed. The form is eventually sent off to the county, where it is secured.

Court records show subpoenas were filed to both Lenape Valley Crisis and Doylestown Hospital.

Instead, Ellis-Marseglia said, police should have asked for the paperwork from Bucks County through Pennsylvania State Police, which has the authority to order release of such mental health records.

“They’ve should’ve known to do so through the state police,” Ellis-Marseglia said, noting that is the standard procedure in these cases.

The 40 encounters Bensalem police have had with DiNardo since 2011 were mostly nonviolent and gave no indication he was capable of murder, Harran said.

Bensalem police first encountered DiNardo on August 15, 2011, Harran said. It was nothing major, just someone calling to report DiNardo riding an ATV on the street.

Harran defended his department, saying at least four of the 40 encounters were for things as simple as home alarms going off. He said some did involve “physical disturbances” but he couldn’t elaborate because they were domestic in nature. None involved weapons, Harran said, aside from the incident that led to the gun charge.

Harran’s frustration lies with the lack of communication between mental health facilities and law enforcement due to patient privacy laws. He said he wishes there were a database where police could look up mental health records for individuals they encounter.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t know that information,” Harran said. “There’s a lot of other DiNardos out there.”

Harran had said Wednesday that a Lenape Valley worker had been called to testify at the gun hearing and refused, citing patient privacy concerns, before the judge dismissed the charge.

The Lenape Valley Foundation responded Thursday in an emailed statement, noting that they were legally unable to reveal the identity of any patients or discuss medical information.

“We can, however, emphatically state that Lenape Valley Foundation cooperates with all lawfully issued subpoenas seeking records or courtroom testimony regarding patient treatment,” the foundation said, “and is aware of no instance where any of its employees failed to cooperate with such requests from law enforcement.”

Ellis-Marseglia said her understanding was that DiNardo’s lawyer, Michael Kevin Parlow, pointed out that the form was incomplete at the hearing, not knowing himself what the proper protocol was for getting this paperwork. She said Judge Michael Gallagher, who ultimately dropped the charge,  also must not have known the protocol.

While officials are told of this protocol for cases involving involuntary mental health commitments, not everybody knows the exact steps, Ellis-Marseglia said. The county deals with cases like this maybe five times a year, she said.

But “somebody should’ve called Bucks County Mental Health to ask” what the protocol was, Ellis-Marseglia said.

The charge against DiNardo was not refiled until last week, even though prosecutors sent a letter June 21 authorizing police to rearrest him. DiNardo likely would have still been out on unsecured bail, Harran said;the refiled charge would not have kept him behind bars.

DiNardo confessed to killing Jimi T. Patrick, 19, of Newtown; Dean A. Finocchiaro, 19, of Middletown Township; Thomas C. Meo, 21, of Plumstead Township; and Mark P. Sturgis, 22, of Pennsburg, Montgomery County. His cousin, Sean Kratz, confessed to a role in three of the killings. Both men are set to appear at a preliminary hearing on Sept. 7 and remain imprisoned at the Bucks County Correctional Facility with no bond.

“He’s very reserved,” Kratz’s lawyer, Abby Leeds, said Wednesday. “I think he’s in shock at everything that’s going on right now.”

Kratz, 20, also has a history of run-ins with police and has faced charges for theft and other crimes in Philadelphia and Montgomery County.

The parents of at least one victim, Sturgis, have retained a lawyer. Robert Ross, a Philadelphia-based lawyer, said he was looking to determine whether anyone recklessly or negligently allowed  DiNardo and Kratz access to firearms or whether any guns were unlawfully sold to either confessed killer.

“There’s a bigger issue involved here,” Ross said. “If these two accused men aren’t given access to these weapons, these crimes don’t happen.”

In the years before the killings, DiNardo was an appointed member of the Bensalem Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board, but was mostly a no-show, according to two women who served with him.

Pamela Janvey, 71, who served on the panel with DiNardo for about two years, said she did not remember much about him or his participation. He was quiet and she said she did not recall him attending too many of the 12-member board’s monthly meetings. She said she vaguely remembered him wearing a suit and tie to the swearing-in ceremony.

Liz Bourne, a board member since 2002, said she realized DiNardo’s name was familiar when she heard news of his arrest last week. But she, too, did not remember much about his time with the board.

DiNardo was appointed to the panel for its standard one-year term first in 2015 and was then reappointed for the 2016 term, according to township documents.

Township Solicitor Joseph Pizzo said Wednesday that appointments to the board came after either an informal application by the individual or Bensalem’s longtime mayor, Joseph DiGirolamo, reaching out to someone whom he believed was interested in volunteering.  He said he did not know the details of DiNardo’s appointment.

Janvey said her understanding was, “The mayor wants you, that’s it,” Janvey said. Appointees were  “usually politically connected,” as she was, as a board member of Bensalem’s Livengrin Foundation for Addiction Recovery.

Acquaintances have told the Inquirer and Daily News that DiNardo was known to deal drugs.

“I doubt [DiGirolamo] has any idea of what he was like or anything about him —  otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten on,” Bourne said. “I just can’t understand how he got on to begin with.”

Many in Bensalem knew that the DiGirolamos and the DiNardos were friends, Janvey said.

DiNardo, who would have been 18 the first year he served, was the youngest member of the board at the time, but college-age people had served on the board in the past, according to Janvey.

The Drug and Alcohol Advisory Board is “purely an advisory board,” Pizzo said. Its duties include organizing an annual poster and button contest in which local students compete to make antidrug-theme items.

Through Pizzo, DiGirolamo said he was not interested in speaking to a reporter at the township building  Wednesday, citing a desire to keep the case’s focus on the families involved.

“I don’t know if [DiNardo] only attended one meeting or what,” Bourne said. “But I have no recollection of him participating in anything at all.”

Staff writers Justine McDaniel, Chris Palmer, and Joseph A. Slobodzian contributed to this article.