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Family of Parma woman calls for her death investigation to be reopened

Dawn Pasela's father, Ed Pasela, speaks at a rally outside Parma City Hall on Nov. 1, 2023.
Matthew Richmond
Ideastream Public Media
Dawn Pasela's father, Ed Pasela, speaks at a rally outside Parma City Hall on Nov. 1, 2023.

On April 25, 2012, Parma Police were doing a welfare check at the apartment of 26-year-old Dawn Pasela, at the request of her parents, when they found her dead from an apparent alcohol overdose.

In the years since Pasela’s death, her parents said they learned, from a Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department review, of issues including missing items and investigative missteps by police that they say call into question the validity of the investigation.

“After reviewing the Parma Police case file, it was clear that the Parma Police Department did not investigate the death of the decedent,” wrote Det. John Morgan, in the sheriff's department report released in February on Parma's investigation.

Among the issues are three cell phones found in the apartment but not mentioned in the original police reports. Parma police were not able to locate those phones when Morgan asked about them, according to the report.

Police also did not interview potential witnesses at the apartment building or check surveillance footage, according to the sheriff's department report, which also listed several investigative steps that were never followed.

The sheriff’s report lays out nine steps that investigators should take, including “locate the three (3) missing mobile cellular devices;” “once the devices are located complete a download of those devices;” and “try and identify who the decedent attempted to contact at 0439 hours.”

Now Dawn’s parents, Ed and Karen Pasela, want the Parma Police Department to turn the investigation over to an outside agency.

“We have so many questions, and we just want answers,” Karen Pasela told supporters during a rally outside Parma City Hall Wednesday. "We don’t want this to ever happen to another family."

The medical examiner’s report lists Pasela’s blood alcohol level at 0.595. According to the sheriff’s report, a person reaches “unconsciousness, coma and possible death” at 0.40. The medical examiner also listed Pasela’s weight at 110 pounds.

Ed Pasela said he met with Parma Police Lt. Dan Ciryak in 2021 and was told the department would turn over the investigation to another agency. Pasela said he received letters from two agencies, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation in the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department, who said they could take the case at the request of Parma.

Parma Safety Director Bob Coury said in a statement, “There is absolutely no basis to reopen the Medical Examiner’s 11-year-old investigation.”

“She struggled with severe alcohol addiction up through the time of her death,” said Coury. “When police arrived, the door was locked from the inside, so the police entered with a landlord key. Dawn was found unresponsive on the apartment floor and subsequently pronounced dead by the fire department.”

Karen Pasela objects to Coury's description of Dawn's alcoholism.

"She actually had stopped drinking," Pasela said. Her daughter had been living at home for two to three weeks shortly before she died and had not been drinking during that time, she said.

"We also removed the alcohol from her apartment the night before her death," said Pasela. "She was dealing with her alcohol problem."

Coury did not answer questions about the investigative steps brought up by the sheriff’s department report.

Coury said the medical examiner conducted an investigation and attributed her death to acute ethanol intoxication and criticized the organizer of Wednesday’s rally, Tony Viola, of attempting to “muddy the plain facts” about Pasela’s death.

Prior to her death, Pasela worked as an office manager for Cuyahoga County’s Mortgage Fraud Taskforce, formed in the wake of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis.

Her identification cards from the prosecutor’s office and the Ohio Attorney General’s Organized Crime Commission were found in her apartment. According to the sheriff’s report, Pasela stopped working for the task force in June, 2011.

Viola had called Pasela as a defense witness in his state trial but she never appeared. Viola, who describes Pasela as a whistleblower assisting his defense, was convicted in federal court on charges resulting from the task force’s investigation and later acquitted in state court on similar charges.

“We’re not standing out here in the cold for no reason at all,” said the Pasela family’s attorney Kimberly Kendall Corral during Wednesday’s rally. “We have asked and asked and asked... Please refer this investigation to a law enforcement agency who can and who will do it.”

Corrected: November 3, 2023 at 2:42 PM EDT
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the year Ed Pasela said he met with Parma Police Lt. Dan Ciryak.
Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.