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Somerset man charged with false impersonation

Mary Pickels

A Somerset County man accused of putting on a white lab coat and impersonating a doctor as he wandered through Somerset Hospital last month claimed he was conducting research for his online journal experiment.

Todd Michael Knisely, 37, of Somerset was charged with two counts of false impersonation, one charge of theft by deception and one charge of receiving stolen property by Somerset borough police.

Hospital officials have banned Knisely from the property unless he needs emergency medical care.

Knisely could not be reached for comment Friday.

Borough police Officer Scott Zelek went to the hospital July 16 for a report of a suspicious man on the third floor, according to an affidavit.

Officers found Knisely wearing a white hospital lab coat, surrounded by staff members.

Knisely told police he was conducting a “sci-op” for the unnamed journal he claimed to be writing for, according to the affidavit.

“He was doing research by testing the facility security, access, etc.,” Zelek said.

A nurse case manager told police Knisely approached her on the fourth floor, looking for the Internet technology department. He said he worked in the department and identified himself as “Johnson.”

A third-floor nursing supervisor said the staff became suspicious as Knisely, now wearing the lab coat, roamed the halls. When she asked him if he worked at the hospital, he said he did but refused to show her credentials, according to the affidavit.

“She asked him if he was a doctor, (to) which he replied, ‘Yeah, are you?' and walked away,” Zelek wrote.

Employees told police that Knisely at one point entered an unoccupied patient room.

After calling police, staff and maintenance employees surrounded Knisely until officers arrived, Zelek said.

Somerset police Chief Randy Cox commended staff members who noticed something amiss and confronted Knisely.

“Without using any force, they made sure he was there when police arrived. You have to wonder if every entity is going to be as vigilant as they were,” Cox said.

Facility vice president/safety officer Robert King said the hospital wanted to prosecute Knisely.

A website referring to “shadows government,” which appears to be affiliated with Knisely, references a posting Friday called “Hospital Security: My PSYOP/Social Experiment Revealed Startling Results.”

The post does not name the hospital.

It lists the experiment's goals as testing small-town hospital security, gauging psychological response after the experiment ends when he is asked for ID and looking the part through a uniform.

The experiment was to test how easy it is for strangers to gain access to areas off-limits to the public, according to the post.

Knisely told police he had researched the law and was doing nothing illegal, according to the affidavit.

“I think that his research was not as diligent as it could have been,” Cox said.

The misdemeanor charges were filed Thursday before District Judge Kenneth Johnson and will be sent by summons. Knisely faces a preliminary hearing on Sept. 16.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or [email protected].


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