Campus students take plea in riot case
A dozen Penn State Altoona students who police alleged were involved in a drunken riot at an off-campus apartment complex appeared in court Thursday, with most opting to take a deal offered by prosecutors.
Assistant District Attorney Derek Elensky said with the assistance of the Logan Township police, the Blair County District Attorney’s Office has come up with offers he believes are fair for the Penn State Altoona students arrested Saturday after a party at Nittany Pointe on Campus View Drive turned ugly.
According to Logan Township Police Chief Ron Heller, students who waived their hearings Thursday would likely be eligible to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program and have the most serious charges dropped. If that works out, the students would have to pay a $1,000 fine and remain on probation for a year, Heller said.
Police estimate up to 800 students were outside Saturday, drinking openly, when Logan Township officers arrived to observe. After bottles were lobbed at officers, police declared it a riot scene and ordered students to disperse and remain indoors.
“These individuals, maybe not be these particular ones here today, but there were bottles being thrown from balconies at our officers, at our vehicles while our officers, Altoona and state police and the campus police were there,” Heller said. “Yeah, I take it seriously if you’re throwing bottles at us.”
Attorney Joel Peppetti, who is representing Kevin B. Nelson, a student who was not drinking but allegedly failed to obey police orders to go inside his apartment, maintains his client did not break the law.
“At this point in time, based on the evidence I have seen and the reports that I have read, I don’t believe my client is guilty of anything because he was on his porch and he was not involved in a riot, and there are constitutional issues as to whether or not he should have even been approached by police,” Peppetti said Thursday.
Peppetti said he has a video that he will play at the preliminary hearing that shows what happened but he declined to provide a copy or describe what it depicts.
Nelson’s case has been continued until May 2 when Peppetti said he will ask for a hearing on the charges but said the proper outcome would be for prosecutors to withdraw the charges.
Nelson was among a group of people on a porch who were ordered inside by Logan Township police. Nelson allegedly refused and taunted police with expletives before an officer tried to pull Nelson over the railing and take him into custody.
Officers ultimatedly used a stun gun on Nelson and charged him with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and recklessly endangering another person as well as the riot-related charges. Peppetti said the issue of whether police went too far in arresting Nelson is an integral part of the case and will be investigated further.
“What I will say is that we are conducting an additional investigation at this point in time into whether or not the police used excessive force,” Peppetti said. “I’m not going to make an specific allegations against the police, but I will say that in any potential resolution the issue of whether or not excessive force was used will be a consideration.”
Heller stressed the importance that students understand the gravity of their actions Saturday.
“There has to be some type of consequence for incidents like this,” Heller said. “We’re dealing with [students] on a regular basis. I don’t mean once every two or three weeks.”
Heller said police were at Nittany Pointe on Tuesday for a party of 150 to 200 people who scattered and ran as police arrived. Heller said letters have been sent to the management of Nittany Pointe and its owners warning that future calls for police to the apartment complex could carry additional sanctions in accordance to the township’s disorderly gathering ordinance.
Elensky said he believes the officers acted responsibly to a difficult situation and the suspects from Saturday’s incident need to understand what unfolded Saturday at Nittany Pointe won’t be tolerated.
The deal would see to it that the students take responsibility for their actions, Elensky said.
“It would hold them accountable but possibly expunge their records in the future,” Elensky said.
Dominic Molinari said he drove from Allentown Thursday to support his son, Nicholas J. Molinari, who was one of the 12 students arrested Saturday. Molinari said while he believes his son’s arrest was a mistake, his son is accepting the deal that’s on the table.
“It’s disheartening because deep down in my soul, I know my son is innocent,” Molinari said. “He actually admitted he would take a polygraph lie-detector test to that point.”
Molinari said his son was arrested as he was trying to leave the parking lot of Nittany Pointe after his roommate arrived to pick him up. One officer told the driver of the car that he could turn around in an upper parking lot, but when the vehicle proceeded on the one-way road to the lot, Molinari was arrested.
“That was the hardest pill to swallow, I think,” Molinari said.
In addition to Molinari, suspects Kaitlyn Kall, 19; Elizabeth Aguirre, 18; Charles Garber, 19; Kenneth Cenci, 20; Juan Cabrera, 18; Hunter Jones, 19; and Tyler Holleran, 20 waived their cases Thursday.
Three students, Thomas Haak, 19; Patrick Stacy, 19; and Lucas Delpiano, 20; had their cases continued until later this month, and Elensky said it was hopeful those would be resolved as well.