Tom Hogan

Conestoga High School Student Sexual Assault Case: Federal Lawsuit Filed — Lawsuit in Separate Case Pending

This is a follow-up post to my last post “TE School District served with another lawsuit” dated June 8. After posting the previous article, I was emailed a copy of the federal lawsuit and  press release from Ross Feller Casey, the Philadelphia law firm who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the parents of the 15-year-old victim in the case.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, it states that the law firm, “filed a federal lawsuit against the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District and the principal of Conestoga High School alleging administrators and teachers at the High School created and tolerated a culture that emboldened Arthur Phillips, a 67-year old instructional aide, to repeatedly sexually abuse a female student.”

Among other things, the federal lawsuit alleges that “Phillips, an instructional aide in the television production studio at Conestoga since 2006, engaged in a classic yet disturbing pattern of sexual grooming and assault against a student starting when she was only 15 years old.”

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan has criminally charged Arthur Phillips with over 100 counts, including 10 felony charges of statutory sexual assault and 10 felony charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. According to the lawsuit, the sexual assaults were daily between January and mid-April of this year and allegedly “took place in various locations at Conestoga High School, including the school’s TV studio, Phillips’ office, Conestoga’s parking lot and in Phillips’ automobile”.

According to Pennsylvania state law, “Statutory sexual assault becomes a first-degree felony offense in cases when the accused is 11 years, or older, than the minor. If convicted of this charge, a person could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years. Additionally, he or she may be fined up to $25,000.” The minor in this case is a 15-year old female and the accused is a 67-year old male, 52 years her senior.  And remember, the ten counts of statutory sexual assault is only one of the criminal charges against Phillips – if convicted, this man is going to prison for a very, very long time.

The lawsuit is against TE School District and Conestoga Principal Dr. Amy Meisinger, but numerous other CHS teachers and administrators are identified in the 36-page lawsuit.  The lawsuit is a public document but because 14 different CHS teachers or administrators (in addition to Meisinger) are identified by name, I will not upload it to Community Matters. To be clear, the only T/E School District administrator being sued in this lawsuit is Meisinger.

I have read the lawsuit several times. It contains many graphic and sexually explicit details that do not need to be repeated here. As the mother of a daughter, I cannot imagine the horror of this situation for the girl and her family.

What is remarkable is the level of detail contained in the lawsuit of places that Phillips took the student during school hours and after school including Berwyn Pizza, Handel’s Ice Cream and restaurants such as Estia (Radnor), Christopher’s in Wayne and City Works Eatery and Pour House (King of Prussia). Phillips and the student went to multiple Wawa convenience stores in the area including Malvern, Paoli, King of Prussia, Audubon and Norristown. Additionally, Phillips took her on shopping trips to the King of Prussia Mall and ice skating in Dilworth Park outside of City Hall in Philadelphia, and to the IFly Indoor Skydiving Center and to Valley Forge Casino.  Phillips gave the student numerous items, including gift cards.

My guess is there would be security cameras, date and time stamped credit card processing receipts, etc. from most of these locations. According to the lawsuit, “many of Phillips contacts with Plaintiff are documented on Conestoga’s video monitoring system, including those cameras used to observe school entrances and exits and around the bus drop-off/pickup location.”  The lawsuit claims that the school district “failed to review the camera footage and failed to intervene in the outwardly inappropriate and illegal behavior of Phillips” which therefore constitutes a “systematic violation of school district policies”.

To celebrate her birthday, Phillips and the student ‘double-dated’ with a Conestoga teacher and her husband at Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar in King of Prussia. According to the lawsuit, “numerous district officials and teachers were aware of Phillips’ inappropriate relationship with the girl but failed to take steps to investigate or halt the conduct”.  Further, the lawsuit alleges that Phillips’ office was decorated with homemade signs that included the girl’s initials, her first name and the word “love”.

The lawsuit alleges that Phillips continually wrote ‘hall passes’ for the student to miss class when school district policy only permits a teacher (not an aide) to write these passes.  It is alleged that “none of the teachers who received these ‘hall passes’ filled out by Phillips took any action to investigate, manage, question or stop said absences or tardiness”.  Between January and mid-April of this year, the student missed over 20 English classes yet the teacher (allegedly) never discussed the absences with the parents.

Ross Feller Casey is also representing the parent of the 17-year old male CHS student who was sexually abused by another Conestoga staff member, 26-year-old teacher’s aide Christine Towers. Towers was convicted earlier this year and is currently serving time for the crime. The law firm is investigating a separate federal lawsuit against TE School District in that case. In both the Towers case and the Phillips case, the parents of the two abused students are calling for the resignation of the Conestoga principal.

In the Ross Feller Casey press release, attorney Matt Casey stated, “The heartbroken parents I represent, and their children, are demanding accountability on the part of the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District, something that has yet to be achieved despite repeated, shocking instances of sexual abuse at Conestoga High School. The already-known facts lay bare a school district custom of deliberately turning a blind eye to criminal acts in its midst.”  To support this claim, the lawsuit includes the middle school sexting scandal, the football hazing incident and the teacher’s aide who sexually abused the male student case prior to this latest criminal investigation – all occurring in the last couple of years.

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The school board meeting is tomorrow, Monday, June 12, 7:30 PM at Conestoga High School and includes the adoption of the 2017-18 final budget. The meeting agenda continues to list the teachers’ contract (TEEA), the non-instructional contract (TENIG) and Act 93 Agreement (administrators) as ‘TBD’ in the proposed final budget. The contracts constitute 70% of the District budget yet the budget includes no contingencies.  However, it is noted that on page 293 of the agenda, we see that the school board will take a vote on giving administrators a 1.7% increase to their 2016-17 base salary plus a one-time bonus of 1% to be paid in June 2018.

Since the last regular meeting of the school board, there have been two lawsuits filed against the District … the agenda makes no mention of either.

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Conestoga High School Hazing Fallout: Football Coach Sues T/E School District Administrators

Fourteen months ago in March 2016, the TE School District fired five Conestoga High School football coaches and head coach John Vogan resigned after Chester County DA Tom Hogan charged three football players with sexual assault of a younger player. The investigation stemmed from a freshman football player’s allegations that three senior players held him down and penetrated his rectum with a broom handle in October.

The teenage victim of the Conestoga High School football hazing scandal claimed that the school district failed to protect him from hazing and sexual abuse.The District claimed that the fired football coaches failed to supervisor the football players in the locker room. A letter from the school district at the time of the charges stated, “The locker rooms had an insufficient adult presence throughout the football season, creating an environment where hazing activities could occur …”

In January of this year, the District Attorney office announced that the former football players plead guilty to a lesser charge of harassment and the assault charges were dropped. Because the most serious charge of assault was dropped, some in the community pointed to this as proof that no assault occurred.

Thomas Batgos, an assistant football coach fired by the T/E School District, has now filed a lawsuit against District administrators – Superintendent Dr. Richard Gusick and Conestoga High School principal Dr. Amy Meisinger, in addition to the father of the accuser in the incident. Batgos’ lawsuit cites defamation of character, misrepresentation, fraud and improper termination and seeks at least $50,000 in compensation plus punitive damages.

At the time the coaches were fired, the TE School District indicated that the coaches were responsible for oversight of the football players in the locker room. In his lawsuit, Batgos claims that it was not his job as a part-time football coach to supervise the locker room (where the alleged assault occurred).

The entire T/E School District community has really struggled to move on – the allegations against the Conestoga High School football players was reported nationwide. Dealing with the situation has been a challenge for the young men accused but as a community we also need to remember the lives and reputations of the football coaches were forever changed.

If you are Batgos and the other football coaches, how do you move on after your reputation is ruined and your standing in the community is damaged?

Although other Conestoga football coaches were terminated, Batgos is the only one to date who has filed a lawsuit. But I am guessing that there could be more lawsuits to follow and it is interesting to note that Batgos sparred the school board in his legal action.

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Closing the chapter on the alleged football hazing incident at Conestoga High School — Is it finally over?

 

Conestoga High SchoolThe following statement was released this morning from the Chester County District Attorney’s office regarding the Conestoga High School football hazing incident.  As I read the statement, it appears that the three juveniles have received an offense of harassment. According to the statement, the broomstick did not penetrate the victim but rather it was used to poke him in the leg — painting a much different picture.

Coaches lost their jobs and had their reputations tarnished over the alleged football hazing incident. The statement says that the victim and charged juveniles and their families would like to move on their with lives and will be making no further statements but where does this leave the former football coaches, Conestoga football players (and their families) and the students and staff?

Hazing and bullying has no place in our high school but moving on may not be that easy.

CHS hazing

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Timing is Everything: Conestoga High School reporters on alleged sodomy charges & victim’s residency dispute

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In today’s Spoke, Conestoga High School’s newspaper is the article, “Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD” by Andy Backstrom, former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16) and Caleigh Sturgeon, Manager Web Editor. Backstrom is a 2016 graduate of CHS and will be attending Boston College in the fall and Sturgeon is a CHS senior.

Backstrom and Sturgeon review the facts surrounding the hazing investigation and alleged sodomy of a freshman football player by three senior varsity football players. The alleged victim was previously involved in a middle school sexting incident, but reportedly there was no connection. One development has centered on whether the victim is a “legal” resident of the T/E School District or was he living in Delaware County.

There has been no update from the District Attorney’s office regarding the case against the three Conestoga football players. Because the accused are juveniles (or where at the time of the alleged crime), the information is protected from the public. Since the case does not appear to have advanced in the court system, where does that leave these three former Conestoga football players?

After reading Backstrom and Sturgeon article below, the timing and connection between the alleged victim’s sexting incident, residency questions and claims of sodomy certainly make the situation suspicious. What really did happen? Aside from the criminal case and whether he was actually a ‘victim’, the freshman football player was also a pawn in his father’s hand.

Read the article — what do you think?

Sodomy allegation followed victim’s residency dispute with TESD

By Andy Backstrom, Former Co-Editor-in-Chief (2015-16), and Caleigh Sturgeon, Managing Web Editor

The Spoke collected the information included in the story below from public records searched by The Spoke at the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, articles published elsewhere and statements issued by Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan.

While there appears to be no news about the sodomy charges against the three varsity football players at Conestoga High School filed in March, or the hazing investigation, more facts are available than have been widely reported. There is no official conclusion in the case, but documents recorded in another case raised questions, concerning the cloud formed over the Conestoga community.

Many months before the commencement of the hazing investigation, the Tredyffrin Easttown School District (TESD) held an expulsion hearing for Conestoga’s lone freshman varsity football player on Nov. 10, 2015. The previous week (Nov. 3), Tredyffrin Easttown Police announced charges against three students in TESD for “cyber bullying” teenage girls, as the students were found sharing sexually explicit images in the spring of 2015. The freshman was among the students charged.

Yet, the freshman was not expelled.

Instead, TESD made a deal to pay for him to attend Buxmont Academy, a private school for troubled youth that charges almost twice the cost of attending Conestoga. A condition of the deal was that the student reside in the district. The student and his father agreed. But, almost immediately, TESD acted on suspicions that the freshman actually lived in Delaware County.

Based on returned mail from the student’s given home address, TESD hired private investigator Michael J. Leyden, who conducted surveillance of the student during the last three months of 2015. On Jan. 12, 2016 TESD wrote both the student and his father that the investigation determined that they had not been residents of the school district since March 5, 2015.

On Jan. 28, after a hearing, a TESD hearing officer, A. Kyle Berman, found that the student was not a district resident and that the father had made false statements about the student’s residence.

“The testimony of Parent is not at all credible relating in any way to the place that he and Student reside,” Berman wrote.

TESD demanded that the father reimburse the district both for the days the student attended Conestoga as a non-resident and the days he attended Buxmont as an alternative to expulsion.  The assessment includes March 5, 2015 – Nov. 13, 2015, the student’s last day at Conestoga, at the rate of $70.12 per day, as well as Nov. 16, 2015 – Jan. 22, 2016, when TESD stopped paying for student’s alternative tuition, due to violation of a “Waiver of Expulsion” agreement, at a rate of $136.02 per day. TESD presented the father with a bill for $13,442.92.

In addition, Director of Assessment and Accountability, Mark Cataldi, threatened that failure to pay the balance within 30 days would result in criminal investigation.

“The District will seek prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, including fines and imprisonment for theft of educational services from the District and providing false information to the District regarding your residency,” Cataldi wrote.

Within the next week, by Feb. 5, the father reported to TESD that his son was sodomized by three varsity football seniors back on October 15, 2015 with a broomstick. TESD notified the District Attorney, prompting the hazing investigation at Conestoga.

The father’s report places the hazing incident less than a month both before the student was charged for his role in the “sexting scandal” and his expulsion hearing.

On February 17, the father and the student sued TESD to halt the district’s efforts to collect the $13,442.92. A Chester County Judge was due to hear their case on March 4, but, on March 1, TESD agreed to postpone the hearing and suspend its collection campaign temporarily. Three days later (March 4), Hogan made national news announcing sodomy charges based on the account of the student and his father.

Hogan told The Philadelphia Inquirer that, “no evidence suggested” that the hazing case is connected to the earlier sexting case but did not dispute that the victim in one was the accused in the other.

Hogan did not respond to The Spoke’s request for comment on today’s story.

A final court decision on the freshman’s residence and the debt to TESD is expected this summer. However, there is no telling when the three, now, former seniors, who graduated from Conestoga on June 7, will learn their fate. A juvenile matter, their case is not public unless Hogan decides to announce its outcome.

Until May of this year, Pennsylvania’s anti-hazing law was limited to colleges and university.  New legislation was approved by PA Gov. Wlf in May that expanded the state’s anti-hazing law to include public and private middle and high schools, making it a third-degree misdemeanor when a student is forced to take part in abuse or humiliating conduct for initiation into a team or group. Schools are required to post anti-hazing policies online and provide copies to all athletic coaches.

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Three Conestoga senior football players charged with sexual assault of freshman player – This is no rite of passage!

FootballA month ago, we learned that an extensive law enforcement investigation was underway at Conestoga High School after they got wind of hazing allegations. The investigation centered on ritual hazing by football players which occurred on the same day each week at the high school.  Apparently some of the students were aware of the hazing and would deliberately avoid the gym at certain times.

Today we learned from Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan that three 17-yr. old senior football players, including the team captain, at Conestoga High School have been charged with an October 15 hazing incident where they allegedly penetrated a younger player with a broomstick after he refused to help other underclassmen clean the team locker room while wearing just their underwear. Criminal charges were filed against the three juveniles for “assault, conspiracy, unlawful restraint, terroristic threats and other offenses.”

According to Hogan, the football team had a tradition called “No Gay Thursday” where all “gay” behavior was allowed.  Allegedly the team’s upperclassmen bullied the younger team members, often in sexually explicit or suggestive ways, during the weekly Thursday locker room hazing incidents.

The October 15 assault occurred after underclassmen were told to strip to their underwear and clean the high school locker room. The 14-year old victim stripped to his boxers but then reconsidered.  When the high school freshman tried to leave the locker room, he was held down by his attackers and abused sexually with a broom handle.  The prosecutor said that the three upperclassmen football players “will not face sexual assault charges because the law requires a motive of sexual gratification, which was not the case here.”  I suggest that the law needs to change … this was rape.

Although Hogan said that there is no evidence that the coaches were aware of the assault, Conestoga’s head football coach John Vogan was suspended from all coaching activities pending the outcome of an internal investigation by the TE School District.

District Superintendent Dr. Richard Gusick has sent a letter to the T/E families, which stated that administrators will conduct a “thorough school-based investigation to determine whether code of conduct violations occurred and the awareness and supervision of the coaching staff.”

Some may view school football hazing as a rite of passage – sexual assault with a broom handle is rape. Bottom line, the TE community needs to hold the District’s administration, staff and school board accountable and demand answers.  No one should be allowed to hide behind the curtain of “number one school district in the country”!

I suggest that the TE School Board members need to stop talking about school fencing and focus on what’s really important — sexual assault in the high school … the real safety risk to our children!

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Police investigating ritual hazing involving Conestoga High School football team

FootballHearing reports on the news about Tredyffrin Township police and Chester County detectives investigating alleged hazing at Conestoga High School involving the school’s football team.

According to the report, teams of detectives are interviewing as many as 60 or 70 students about an alleged assault during hazing where one student was seriously injured.  The investigation is interviewing current football players and going back two years.

The report said that the investigation centers on ritual hazing by football players which occurred on the same day each week. Apparently some of the students were aware of the hazing going on and would deliberately avoided the high school gym at certain times.

The news report makes it sound like this was a routine weekly hazing … how is that no one knew what was going on? Where were the coaches, teachers, administrators?

All of this attention paid to fencing our schools for safety reasons but what about the safety of our children inside the schools?

Although at this point, the focus is on ‘alleged’ hazing, it’s hard to believe that Chester County DA Tom Hogan would have teams of detectives investigating if there wasn’t significant reason. According to the TE School District’s website, the District is not conducting their own investigation. From an administration standpoint, I would think that the District would want to conduct their own internal investigation and find out ‘who knew what and when’.

The following appears on the TE School District website:

Police Investigation into Alleged Hazing

We have been advised by Chester County law enforcement officials of a police investigation related to alleged hazing by Conestoga High School current and/or former football players. The District places the highest priority on student safety and, to that end, is cooperating in any way it can with law enforcement officials. As this is not currently a school district investigation, we are not in a position to answer any questions or provide more information at this time. However, if you or your child has any information pertinent to this matter, please contact the Chester County District Attorney’s Office or the Tredyffrin Township Police Department.

 

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Depression, alcoholism and drug addiction … “Saving lives is the Answer”

IDrug addictionn June, I learned that a local 20-something year old CHS graduate had committed suicide. Although I did not know the young man personally, I was told that he suffered from depression, drug addiction and was on probation through the courts.  Having attended the funeral of his friend, another young man, himself a Conestoga graduate, sent me an email.

Overcome with grief over losing his close friend from high school, and looking for answers, his email read in part,

I’ve been struggling with addiction for 5 years now. I know that people need to get it on their own, but I mean trying to educate them before this happens.  If I saw a fellow peer talk about how he/she just started out experimenting with drugs and eventually led to what it led to for me who knows what I would have done differently.

The problem is hard drugs have been normalized in the high school and almost glorified because they don’t see what happens when they are a little older and all of their friends are dying.

We have 15-year-old girls in Conestoga that are shooting heroin! It’s absolute insanity. Something needs to be done; we just lost ANOTHER graduate, one of my best friends, 3 days ago to this stuff.

The young man who sent me this email told me that had sent an email to the T/E School Board asking for their help with the drug problem in the schools.

Last year, Chester County officials released the statistics report on fatal heroin overdoses in the county.  Since 1999, the overdose death rate in Chester County has doubled with 24 overdose deaths in 2013, with victims ranging from 21 to 79 years old.  Fourteen were men and 10 were women. The report indicated that 18 of the fatal overdoses or approximately seventy-five percent, both heroin and prescription drugs were involved.

When the statistics were released, Chester County DA Tom Hogan stated, “One clear trend from these statistics is that prescription drug abuse is a gateway to a heroin overdose. Heroin does not discriminate.  It is a deadly drug that is abused by young and old, poor and rich, white and black.  Nobody is safe. There are students in every high school in Chester County who are using heroin, from Conestoga to Coatesville, from Unionville to Oxford.”

In 2014, we learned of the arrest of 11 people involved in the ‘Main Line Take Over Project’, a drug trafficking ring.  Two Haverford School graduates were the drug operation kingpins and hired students at main line high schools, including Conestoga, Radnor and Lower Merion as their drug peddlers. Every child is at risk.  According to experts, those with risk factors, such as a family history of mental illness or addiction, have a greater chance of becoming addicted.

Alcoholism and drug addiction is a disease. People are suffering from this disease and dying from this disease every day. We really can’t do anything as a society to help those people until we start talking about it.

I received the following statement from T/E School Board Director Liz Mercogliano with a request to add it to Community Matters:

Rescue for Overdose

My name is Liz Mercogliano. I serve as a current T/E school board director. I also have practiced psychiatric nursing since 1984.  I am a practicing Realtor and lawyer.

I wanted to share the facts on overdose and/or harm to self or suicide. At T/E, I support giving our students mental and emotional support. Every year we lose a child to suicide or overdose. Overdose can happen in a second with prescription, legal and illegal drugs.

Many students and families are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of psychiatric disease or the fact that everyone has different levels of depressions throughout their lives. As a result, there are accidental overdoses as well as serious unidentified clinical depressions that may lead to suicide.

Please realize depression is treatable and many overdose accidents result in life changing events for the individual. The right thing to do is to help those who need our help. This help includes identifying persons at risk and offering professional help. This is not a small matter in our community. When it happens to you or a loved one, find help.  In my mind, EMTs and the ability to reverse the overdose will make our community a better place.

Saving lives is the answer. Provide mental and emotional support all the sick whether it is a traditional medical disease or drug or alcohol disease.

Sincerely,

Liz Mercogliano, RN, Esquire
T/E School Board Director

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Happy 4th of July 2013!

Tom Hogan,  Chester County District Attorney, former Tredyffrin Township supervisor and my friend, wrote the following on his Facebook page today for the 4th of July  …

I whistle “The Star Spangled Banner” late at night when I leave work. I have a hand-painted picture of the flag done by my kids hanging in the office. I visit Valley Forge in the winter once a year, take off my jacket, and shiver as I think about Washington’s troops. I am now, and always will be, proud to be an American. Happy Fourth of July.

Thank you Tom for your words and for your service and dedication to keep the citizens of Chester County safe!

As you enjoy this special day of celebration, please take time to reflect on the journey our founding fathers began 237 years ago.  I posted the following narrative, “What Happened to the 57 Men who Signed the Declaration of Independence” a couple of years ago and thought it special to repeat today.  (The source of the information – www.snopes.com).

As you enjoy your own 4th of July holiday, silently thank these patriots.  It’s not much to ask for the price they paid; remember, freedom is never free.

What happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence?

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War. They signed and they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured.

Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags.

Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward.

Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton.

At the battle of Yorktown, Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt.

Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months.

John Hart was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

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PA Laws Need to Change to Protect our Family Pets

How sad and senseless was the killing a couple of weeks ago, of two Bernese Mountain dogs in West Vincent Township?  My friend and blogger extraordinaire Carla Zambelli of Chester County Ramblings, has had a major impact on this story. Carla has used her social media skills and connections to seek justice for the dogs and to encourage legislation to protect the rights of our family pets.

As I understand what happened, the two family pets (Argus and Fiona) of Mary and William Bock and their five children, escaped from their fenced yard in Chester Springs. Apparently, the homeowner was unaware of a hole in the fence, caused by a fallen tree limb.  According to Mary Bock, from the time the dogs escaped the yard, until the time the pair were found dead in neighbor Gabe Pilotti’s yard was only about 15 minutes.

Pilotti originally told police that Argus and Fiona were after his sheep in an enclosed pen in his yard.  However, during the investigation, the police determined that the pair of dogs was not chasing the sheep when Pilotti shot them with his shotgun.  Using a single shotgun, means that Pilotti shot the first dog and then would have to remove the shell, and reload with another bullet to shoot the second dog.

Based on an old Pennsylvania state law that permits an individual to kill animals that threaten their livestock, the Chester County District Attorney’s Office originally determined that Pilotti had not committed a crime.  However a couple of days ago, District Attorney Tom Hogan reversed course and filed criminal charges against Pilotti – two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of recklessly endangering another person. Hogan said that the century-old state law did not protect Pilotti because the Bernese Mountain dogs were not attacking his sheep when he shot them.

Pilotti told the police that the dogs had not hurt the sheep and admitted that he did not try to scare the dogs off his property before killing them!  In fact, Pilotti admitted that Argus was not near the sheep and was actually walking towards him when he shot him in the head.  Because the direction Pilotti shot his gun was towards a private residence, the DA’s office added the reckless endangerment to the list of charges.

For regular readers of Community Matters, I have made no secret about my feelings related to guns and need for increased gun control legislation.  This senseless killing of family pets is just another example of what guns can do in the wrong hands and why gun laws need to change in America. Regardless of what happens with his pending criminal case, I am of the opinion that Pilotti needs a complete mental health examination before he is ever allowed to own a gun in the future.  Here’s a question – if Pilotti is convicted of this crime, does it affect his rights to own a gun? Unfortunately, I am confident that if he found ‘not guilty’, his retains his gun rights, just not sure what happens if he convicted.

Life is about making choices. Gabriel Pilotti had a choice when he found Argus and Fiona on his property.  Instead of picking up his cellphone and calling 9-1-1 or chasing the dogs from his yard, he chose to grab his shotgun … leaving a family grieving for their pets.  Pilotti will have to live with the consequences of his horrific choice.

Pilotti has been charged with the crime … now; Pennsylvania laws need to change to protect our pets.  As Carla writes on Chester County Ramblings, Punishment AND fines for animal cruelty need to be tougher all the way around.  It needs to mean more than an inconvenience.”

Thank you Carla for your efforts in seeking justice for Argus and Fiona. So their death was not in vain, along with Carla, I urge you to contact your local elected officials and help be the force behind getting laws changed to protect our family pets. Locally our Pennsylvania contacts are Sen. Andy Dinniman, Andy@psenate.com and State Rep. Warren Kamp, wkampf@pahousegop.com . Send them an email and ask them to support animal rights legislation.  According to Carla’s blog, himself an animal rights advocate, Sen. Dinniman is working a law that “would allow pet owners to civilly sue those who harm or kill their pets.”

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Tredyffrin’s Solicitor Vince Donohue claims that government does not seek to suppress public comment … Really?

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires all public agencies to take all official actions and conduct all deliberations leading up to official actions at public meetings.  According to 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 708(a); Sunshine Act, Section 8(a), there are certain discussions that can take place in an executive session where the public is excluded. At the onset of every Board of Supervisors meeting, Michelle Kichline, in her capacity as chair, makes a statement that the Board met prior to the meeting in executive session to discuss legal and personnel matters.  Under the provisions of the PA Sunshine Act, those township matters pertaining to personnel or legal matters are not discussed publicly   In fact, if during the ‘New Matters – Citizens’  section of the Board of Supervisors meeting, a resident asks a question that falls into the legal or personnel category, either a Board member of the township solicitor quickly points out that they cannot respond to the question.  Over years of attending supervisors meeting, I can attest that the solicitor does not permit the supervisors to respond to citizen questions that fall into personnel or legal areas.

Understanding the provisions of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, it was surprising to read that Tredyffrin Township’s solicitor Vince Donohue had a public response on a legal matter in Main Line Media News article, ”Community Matters blogger Pattye Benson calls for Tredyffrin Township to adopt policy regarding the use of its website” written by Richard Llgenfritz.

If you recall Llgenfritz wrote the story, “Tredyffrin zoning hearing board member not guilty after police are a no-show at her trial in late August.  His article, in addition to TE Patch, Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily Local articles, blog posts on Chester County Ramblings and telephone and email inquiries from residents, were the reasons that I conducted my mini-research investigation.

As part of my research on the police matter, I spoke with Tredyffrin Township Board of Supervisors chair Michelle Kichline, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan, Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo and District Judge Tom Tartaglio.  For the results of my research and corresponding comments in post, “Community Matters closes the chapter on police investigation but Tredyffrin supervisor opens a new one”, click here.

Because of the newspaper articles, blog posts and related public comments on the police situation, Tredyffrin Township supervisor John DiBuonaventuro decided to write and post a personal letter dated September 5, 2012 on the township website, using township resources and township letterhead.  Although the use of government resources by an elected official is surprising, it was the fact that the other six supervisors, the township manager and the township solicitor sanctioned the behavior of DiBuonaventuro that underscored the importance for a township website policy.

This past Friday, I posted the letter from my attorney Samuel Stretton on Community Matters. Stretton’s letter was sent to the seven members of Tredyffrin’s Board of Supervisors.  I learned in Llgenfritz MLMN article, that Stretton’s letter was forwarded to the township solicitor Vince Donohue.  No surprise as this was a legal matter and as the township solicitor, he clearly needed to be involved.  However, because this is a ‘legal matter’ (remember the PA Sunshine Act and that legal and personnel matters in the township are not publicly discussed but held for executive session discussion), I was amazed that Donohue discusses Stretton’s letter with Llgenfritz.  Gosh, I would think that Donohue should not be talking about sending a response to Stretton – isn’t this a legal matter?  And then to further throw out there that it would be up to me whether I make the letter public or not?  To my knowledge, Stretton has not received a letter and I certainly have not seen any letter from Donohue. (I will assume that Donohue’s response is ‘in the mail’).  So, I  am struggling to understand this – the supervisors are not permitted to discuss legal matters in public but it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss legal matters?  Shouldn’t the more appropriate response from Donohue to Llgenfritz have been, “… this is a legal matter, and I am not at liberty to discuss”.

However, Donohue does not stop there in his comments to the newspaper, he goes on to address some of the issues that others and I have raised – i.e. First Amendment rights.  According to Donohue,

“This township has no interest what so ever in suppressing anybody’s first amendment rights and in fact does not. All you need to do is take a look at our five six-hour public meetings that we’ve had in the last few years. All you need to do is look at the Trout Creek overlay ordinance process where we involved no fewer than 30 members of the public on working groups and commissions held six or seven public hearings even for those members of the community that didn’t like the outcome I think it’s hard to argue with the openness and the fact that the township encourages and invites public input. I think this township’s actions belie any claim that it seeks to suppress public comment positive or otherwise about township matters.”

All I can say is, wow.  Donohue approved DiBuonaventuro’s letter going on the township letterhead on the township website.  I suggest that he needs to go back and read it and then come up with a more convincing argument as to how his letter is not an attempt to silence those who dare to disagree.  DiBuonaventuro writes in his September 5 letter, “What is more important for community to realize from this example is the disturbing trend that has developed with most of the internet elements of legitimate newspapers and the tabloid formatted blogs like “Community Matters”.  Public discussion of important community matters is a ‘disturbing trend’ — whether public discussion is over the backyard fence, in the aisle of the Paoli Acme or on the Internet, it is our First Amendment right; open debate and commentary exists under the US Constitution.

In fact, before I contacted Sam Stretton, I sent DiBuonaventuro’s letter to several attorneys and journalists; individuals who do not live in the area and would not know any of the people involved.  Not one person responded that they thought the actions of our government in regards to DiBuonaventuro’s letter were OK.  In addition, I should add that many people used adjectives like ‘chilling’ in describing DiBuonaventuro’s attempt to suppress public discussion.

It is interesting that Donohue would point to the many meetings held over the Trout Creek ordinance (for the record, there were 7 public hearings), as somehow public comment at supervisors meetings was the same thing as DiBuonaventuro’s use of public resources, public letterhead and public website.  Certainly, there were many meetings over Trout Creek, but I wonder how many of the Glenhardie residents feel that their voices were actually heard during the process?  Donohue makes no mention of Trisha Larkin and her neighbors in the Daylesford neighborhood.  Like the Glenhardie residents, how many of the Daylesford folks think that their voices made a difference to the outcome.  The Daylesford neighbors, in addition to many residents throughout the township, were overwhelmingly opposed to the C-1 zoning change.  However, as we all saw, their voices did not matter.  Yet Donohue claims that the township “encourages and invites public input” … maybe that’s true if you happen to be developer Ed Morris or his attorney Denise Yarnoff, who now have the green light to build an assisted living facility on 1 acre on Lancaster Ave.

As a resident of Tredyffrin Township, this is all so very disheartening, including Donohue’s response to Main Line Media News.  I am amazed that it is OK for the township solicitor to discuss a legal matter of a private citizen with the newspaper — to talk about a township response that he has sent to my attorney, Sam Stretton, that I have not even seen.  Wow.

It’s like some of the rules in Tredyffrin Township only exist when they benefit our elected officials, not the citizens.

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