Two members of the Panther Valley School Board, who were accused of harassing an elderly man attending a meeting, were exonerated of the charge yesterday by District Judge Casimir Kosciolek of Lansford.
Board President Jeffrey J. Markovich was the defendant in a privately filed complaint by Nesquehoning resident John J. Barna. Kosciolek dismissed the charge because the criminal complaint didn't list a town in which the alleged offense occurred.
Board member David Hiles was found not guilty of a summary offense filed by the Summit Hill Police Department, charging he harassed Barna, following an hourlong hearing.
The charges stem from an incident between Barna and Hiles in a hallway of the Panther Valley Middle School prior to a board meeting on April 22.
Two weeks before that, Barna had been removed from a school board meeting because, Barna said at yesterday's hearing, "I'm alleged to have threatened to shoot school board members."
According to testimony at the hearing yesterday, Barna went to the April 22 school board meeting and was asked to leave when he began making unspecified remarks.
While leaving the meeting accompanied by Vanak Security Agency officer John Ruzicka, Barna passed Hiles in a hallway. Barna made some remarks and Hiles responded with gestures from a bent arm.
"Hiles had every opportunity to keep walking past Barna," said Officer Lori Lienhard of the Summit Hill Police Department, explaining why she cited him.
Hiles testified on his own behalf after Kosciolek initially indicated he wasn't going to dismiss the charge. He admitted giving Barna the gesture and said, "That's when he went crazy."
Hiles said he went back into the board room while Ruzicka escorted Barna from the building.
"Why didn't you just keep walking," Lienhard asked Hiles regarding his gestures.
"Because I felt he needed a response," Hiles answered.
Lienhard then asked Hiles, "You felt the obscene gesture was an appropriate response as a school board member?"
Hiles told the court, "I didn't think it was an obscene gesture."
Markovich and Hiles were provided with legal representation for the hearing by school solicitor attorney Robert Yurchak.
There was no legal representation with Barna or Lienhard.
Yurchak asked for dismissal of the charge against Markovich because the complaint filed by Barna was incomplete, not having a town where the alleged incident occurred.
He sought the dismissal of the count against Hiles because he said previous court rulings indicated a single incident isn't deemed harassment.
Barna said that at the April 22 meeting, "I was asked to leave the meeting because of a comment I allegedly made at a previous meeting. I made a threat."
He explained his reaction when he saw Hiles make the gesture.
"At that time I feared for my life. I feared for my life. I don't know what was going on in his mind, but I know I wouldn't be able to defend myself," he said.
Barna admitted he was with the security guard at the time.
Upon questioning, Barna agreed that Hiles didn't come after him.
Barna also admitted that while passing Hiles in the hallway, "I did say a couple of things."
When asked what he had said, Barna couldn't remember. He said he was talking to himself and "didn't say anything to Hiles in the hallway."
"You said you ... felt threatened by Mr. Hiles. Did you call the police?" Yurchack asked Barna
"No," responded Barna.
Ruzicka testified that Barna "was trying to get ahold of Mr. Hiles" in the Hallway and had him pinned against the wall.
He also said Barna ran back into the board room at one point and said, "I'm going to get every one of you," then left.
"Mr. Hiles did not say anything," said the security guard.
Ruzicka said he didn't see any gestures by Hiles "because I was trying to control Mr. Barna. When I was holding him, he was trying to get away from me."