Former Hollidaysburg Area School District intern files lawsuit
Vinosky falsely accused of making threatening calls
Less than a year ago, Scott M. Vinosky was preparing to begin an internship with the Hollidaysburg Area School District in order to complete a master of education degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, but his plans were derailed in November when he was falsely accused of making threatening phone calls to several of the district’s schools.
Now, Vinosky, 31, who lives in State College, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against retired Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, Hollidaysburg Police Chief Rodney B. Estep Jr. and a multitude of other law enforcement officers, police departments and school officials.
His lawusit, filed by Johnstown attorney Ronald P. Carnevali Jr., claims that local officials, bolstered by the alleged “positive” identification of Vinosky’s voice by Hollidaysburg area school officials, continued to investigate, charge and jail Vinosky, even though Logan Township police had already arrested — and had a confession from — another suspect, Javier Alberto Cantos Jr., 24, of Altoona, who had at one point attended Hollidaysburg Area schools.
Cantos, according to state court records, is awaiting formal arraignment in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas, faced with 20 separate charges stemming from the events that occurred on Nov. 20, 2019.
As part of his internship, Vinosky split his time between the Frankstown Township Elementary School and the Hollidaysburg Area High School.
He was under the supervision of guidance counselors while at each school, but on Nov. 15, while at the High School, Vinosky became aware of a situation from a student, that, as a mandated reporter, he felt should be referred to Pennsylvania’s Childline.
After consulting with an employee in the high school’s guidance department, he was “reassured” the information should be referred for investigation.
He filled out the necessary paperwork and then went into an office and called the statewide child abuse hotline.
It was at that point one of his advisers attempted to stop him from making the call.
Vinosky, however, completed the call and then reported his actions to the school’s principal.
On Nov. 19, 2019, he was informed his internship was being terminated.
A day later, a series of calls were made to the district’s elementary schools, and the junior and senior high schools.
The calls were by someone identifying himself as “Mr. Fantastic.” They indicated, “Change is going to happen very quickly.”
The caller said he would have to “reallocate some resources and give them to people who will keep the planet safe. … The education system is going to change very quickly and very soon.”
A deadline for change was set by the caller for Friday, Nov. 22.
Police were informed, and when the high school principal, Maureen Letcher, and one Vinosky’s advisers, Hully Hoover, heard the voicemail, they informed the Hollidaysburg officer that “They were positive the voice belonged to (Vinosky),” the lawsuit stated.
It was ultimately decided, based upon the information received from Letcher, Hoover and Perk Oettinger,Vinosky’s other adviser, that police would file charges against Vinosky.
Hollidaysburg officer Allen Fochler, who was named in the complaint, sought legal advice from District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, who said he didn’t approve or disapprove the arrest but he attended meetings concerning the possibility of an arrest.
Meanwhile, events were occurring in another area police department.
The lawsuit explained that minutes after the telephone calls to the Hollidaysburg schools on Nov. 20, 2019, Cantos was detained by Logan Township police.
“When he was detained and/or arrested, Mr. Cantos told law enforcement officers, including an (unnamed) Logan Township officer … that he had just called the above mentioned schools and ‘gave them a deadline to reallocate resources.'”
Eventually Hollidaysburg police were able to determine the phone number from which the calls were made came from a number under Cantos’ name.
While Cantos admitted making the calls, the Logan officer did not notify the Hollidaysburg Area School District, and did not share his information with other departments, according to charges.
By Nov. 21, 2019, “Mr. Cantos had already been identified, detained and admitted and/or confessed to making the telephone calls to Hollidaysburg Area School District and leaving the voicemail messages,” according to the lawsuit.
Despite that contention, the other officers moved forward on their plans to arrest Vinosky.
Law enforcement from Blair County, State College, the state police and Penn State police, went to Vinosky’s residence in State College and began questioning him.
They searched his residence, urged him to confess, administered a lie detector test, which they told him he failed, and charged him with terroristic threats, causing or risking a catastrophe, and disorderly conduct.
Vinosky, despite being told by police they would go easy on him if he confessed, continued to deny his guilt.
He maintained he was with his girlfriend and then was in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Library at the time of the threatening voicemail calls.
Refusing to confess, Vinosky was then transported to the Blair County Prison where, he charged, he was harassed by corrections officers and then put into a cell that at one point held 12 inmates.
His name and mug shot were released to the news media and the superintendent of the Hollidaysburg district, Dr. Robert Gildea, sent a message to parents identifying Vinosky, a guidance intern, as the person responsible for the calls to the schools.
It stated, “The messages were of a concerning nature but did not threaten any individual nor detail any specific action.”
On Nov. 22, Vinosky was released on bail.
On Nov. 24, Hollidaysburg Chief of Police Estep, and state police Sgt. Jesse G. Moyer, informed Vinosky all charges would be dismissed.
The lawsuit stated the two officers apologized to Vinosky.
Chief Estep was not available for comment Tuesday.
Hollidaysburg school officials also were not available for comment.
Consiglio said police were concerned about the comments, but noted, “As soon as the mistake was realized, it was corrected.”
“The case will have to be defended,” he said.
Carnevali said Tuesday that Vinosky’s arrest was the result of “a lot of sloppy police work” and a “rush to appease the public.”
His civil lawsuit has charged six counts of false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, as well as an overall claim of failure to train, supervise or discipline officers.
It also charges two counts negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Vinosky has yet to complete his master’s degree, but he has found a job, according to Carnevali.
Due to his experience, Vinosky has suffered anxiety, panic attacks, depression, mental anguish, nightmares, post traumatic stress and other conditions, the lawsuit stated.
Vinosky is asking for money damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie L. Haines in Johnstown will preside over the case.
The lawsuit has also been referred to the federal court’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Program.
The full lawsuit is posted below: