Ex-DA, school staff claim immunity
Former Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio and two employees of the Hollidaysburg Area School District have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a student intern who contends he was falsely arrested 11 months ago for leaving threatening voicemail messages at five of the district’s schools.
Scott Vinosky, a student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was engaged in two 300-hour internships prior to receiving a Master’s degree when he was terminated from the program for not following procedure in making a report to Pennsylvania’s ChildLine.
He was terminated Nov. 19, 2019.
On Nov. 20, five schools in the Hollidaysburg district received threatening phone calls from someone calling himself “Mr. Fantastic” and stating he would be “forced to act” if there were no changes in the district.
When Hollidaysburg police and the Pennsylvania State Police initiated an investigation into the voicemails, Hollidaysburg High School Principal Maureen Letcher and guidance counselor Hully Hoover both informed Hollidaysburg officer Allen Fochler they were positive the voice on the phone was that of Vinosky.
According to a lawsuit filed by Vinosky, the police officer, after reviewing the evidence with now-retired District Attorney Consiglio, filed criminal charges against the intern, and he was transported from his residence in State College to the Blair County Prison, where he spent a night prior to being released on bail.
In the meantime, Logan Township police had taken into custody an individual identified as Javier Alberto Cantos Jr., 24, a former student in the district, who, it is alleged, confessed to leaving the voicemail messages.
He related to an unidentified Logan police officer that he had “just called (Hollidaysburg) … and gave them a deadline to reallocate resources.”
Two days later, officers from Hollidaysburg and the state police infomed Vinosky the charges against him were dropped and offered him an apology.
In July, Vinosky, through Johnstown attorney Ronald P. Carnevali Jr., filed a civil lawsuit in federal court listing 18 defendants, including Consiglio, Letcher and Hoover, as well as multiple police departments and Blair County.
U.S. District Judge Stephanie L. Haines gave each of the defendants deadlines for answering the lawsuits, and this week the former DA and the school officials filed petitions asking the lawsuits against them be dismissed.
Consiglio’s attorneys, Michael R. Lettrich and Marie Milie Jones of Pittsburgh, argued in their answer that Consiglio, as a prosecutor, is protected from both federal and state civil charges of false arrest and false imprisonment by the doctrines of absolute immunity and good faith qualified immunity.
“In short, District Attorney Consiglio is immune from all (Vinosky’s) claims. Dismissal with prejudice appropriate,” according to Consiglio’s attorneys.
Consiglio’s petition explains the core of a prosecutor’s role is to initiate prosecutions, but the law protects the prosecutor in that role.
“Harm to a falsely charged defendant is remedied by safeguards built into the judicial system — probable cause hearings, dismissal of the charges, …” according to the defense petition.
It went on to explain that in the Vinosky case, there was enough probable cause for the DA to approve a criminal complaint — referring to the voice identifications by school officials.
While the Vinosky lawsuit contends the pre-arrest investigation was not sufficient, the Consiglio petition stated the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals “has never recognized an independent due process right to be free from a reckless investigation.”
The attorney for the school officials, Nancy R. Winschel of Pittsburgh, pointed out her clients are included in the Vinosky lawsuit due to claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Letcher and Hoover can’t be sued unless it is proved their conduct in identifying the voicemails as coming from Vinosky was “extreme and outrageous.”
“The fact that these defendants assisted legal authorities with an investigation and provided their opinion on the identity of the caller who left threatening voicemail messages at the school is not shocking or outrageous or such an atrocity which no civilized society can tolerate,” according to the answer filed by Letcher and Hully.
According to the federal court docket, the Hollidaysburg Police Department, Officer Fochler and Chief Rodney B. Estep must answer the Vinosky lawsuit by Oct. 26.
Cantos, according to court records, was charged with 20 offenses including risking a catastrophe, terroristic threats, harassment and disorderly conduct.
The records show he was released on bail last December, but his bail was revoked on Oct. 8 by Senior Judge Jolene G. Kopriva.
A motion to compel a mental health examination was granted that date, the records show.