August 28, 2019
Attack spurs talk about tougher laws
A wave of public furor over the reported assault of a mentally disabled man Aug. 20 on the Hoodlebug Trail near Floodway Park in Homer City has political and law enforcement leaders responding to the outcry.
As social media first exposed the attack, as an accused participant uploaded a video recording of three others repeatedly striking an intellectually disadvantaged Homer City man, the Internet has been a main channel for angry response to not just the assault but the ramifications for the suspected assailants.
What could broadly be called frustration by area residents over the attack has settled in two main questions: How could the criminal charges be so light? How could an attack on a disabled person not warrant harsher punishment?
The response across the board from equally frustrated prosecutors and lawmakers is that the legal system is handcuffed by the laws now on the books. Nothing more can be done to impose greater sanctions on the suspects, if they are convicted.
All that can be done is to beef up the law to deter repeat incidents and to more severely punish someone who does the same in the future, officials said.
State police filed criminal complaints Monday afternoon and arrested the suspects that evening.
The most serious charge filed against the suspects is a first-degree misdemeanor count of stalking (repeatedly commits acts to cause fear). All have been charged with disorderly conduct, false imprisonment and harassment.
For laying hands on the victim, each is charged with simple assault — all that the letter of the law allows, District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said.
Aggravated assault, a felony offense, didn’t happen, Dougherty explained by defining the statute in place in Pennsylvania.
“The Pennsylvania Crimes Code defines Bodily Injury as ‘impairment of physical condition or substantial pain’ and Serious Bodily Injury is defined as ‘bodily Injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ,’” Dougherty said. “In this case, the victim did not suffer injuries which would be considered serious bodily injury and that is required for the charge of aggravated assault.”
Cody Overdorff, 25, of Homer City, came away with red marks and minor bruises but didn’t have to go to the hospital, state police reported. The physical injuries were recorded as they were seen. Overdorff’s family members say the emotional harm, not easily seen, was worse.
Overdorff suffers from Williams syndrome, a developmental disability that also manifests with a risk of cardiac problems.
The suspected assailants: Corey Blystone, 18, of Sagamore; Jordan Kinney, 19, and Dakota Patterson, 20, both of Indiana; and Katelyn Lemley, 19, also known as Katie Black, of Homer City, remained in Indiana County Jail this morning, unable to post $50,000 bond required for release.
That in itself, detention on misdemeanor charges, is a step beyond the usual procedure, Dougherty said. Normally those charged with misdemeanors in Indiana County are sent a summons and told when to report to district court for arraignment.
But when the cases are adjudicated, the punishment for a crime against a person with disabilities is the same as that for an offense against an able-bodied victim.
Local lawmakers, Rep. Jim Struzzi and Sen. Joe Pittman, said they are as disturbed as the constituents who have flooded their phones, email inbox and social media accounts.
“It’s horrifying and appalling that someone could do this, especially on one of our county’s recreational trails. The mental and emotional anguish that he and his family must be in is unimaginable,” Struzzi said. “To help ensure that this family finds adequate justice, and to help prevent these types of crimes from happening again, I am co-sponsoring this bill so that disabled victims are given the justice they deserve.”
He referred to House Bill 1344, authored by Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Chester, that would add “intellectual or physical disability” to the list of elements that prosecutors can consider when contemplating hate crime charges.
“I’m aware and I’m mortified by (the attack), and I’m grateful for law enforcement’s work so far,” Pittman said. “It seems social media has helped to bring this to prosecution.
“And I think it’s an example of the positive power of social media. If it wasn’t for the video and ability to make people aware of this tragedy, I don’t think it would be on our radar, to be honest.”
Concern over victimization of people with disabilities has not escaped the Legislature. Lawmakers in each house introduced bills earlier this year to include disabled people as a protected class in the laws already on the books. Attacks on them would be considered ethnic intimidation or hate crimes and be cause for enhanced sentences, as assaults on a range of classes of people, ranging from minorities to gays to police officers and first responders, already are provided.
Language nearly identical to that in the House measure appears in Senate Bill 444, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion, of Philadelphia.
The bills were referred in the spring to the judiciary committees in the respective houses.
Pittman, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but who took office following a special election in May, said he would promptly add his name as a co-sponsor of the bill and work for its return to the Senate floor for a vote, and Struzzi pledged his backing for Howard’s bill in the House.
Officials cautioned that any quick action for approval of the bills by the House and Senate, and the governor’s signature to make them law, would not change the way the Homer City trail beating case can be prosecuted. Only the laws on the books Aug. 20 would apply, Dougherty said, but “Make no mistake my office will prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.” Source
April 17, 2019
Howard appointed secretary in House Children and Youth Committee
HARRISBURG, April 17 – State Rep. Kristine Howard, D-Chester, was appointed Democratic secretary of the House Children and Youth Committee.
She will serve as secretary with Democratic committee Chairman Joseph Petrarca.
“My experience as a caseworker with the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families puts me in position to be a strong advocate,” Howard said. “As secretary, I am committed to creating a safer, more supportive community for the children of Pennsylvania.”
The Children and Youth Committee focuses on Pennsylvania’s youngest residents, reviewing bills that impact the Office of Child Development and Learning, as well as the Office of Children, Youth and Families under the Department of Human Services.
Those interested in learning more about Howard and her committee appointments can call her district office at 610-251-1070 or visit her website at www.pahouse.com/Howard. Source
March 12, 2019
Chesco, Delco lawmakers urge Wolf to halt Mariner pipeline operations
WEST CHESTER — Pennsylvania lawmakers representing 11 House and three Senatorial districts across Chester and Delaware counties have signed a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf asking him to impose a moratorium on the transmission of natural gas liquids products through the Mariner East pipeline system until the mandated protocols are in place for local responders to properly manage a pipeline emergency.
Chester County Emergency Services and local school districts along the pipeline, including Downingtown Area School District, Rose Tree Media School District and West Chester Area School District have requested Energy Transfer Partners’ subsidiary SPLP to provide its Emergency Response Plan for the Mariner East project, which the responders and school districts need to complete their comprehensive All Hazards Emergency Response Plans and fulfill their statutory requirements under Title 35 of state law.
The letter urges Wolf to preserve the health, welfare and safety of constituents who live, work and raise their families in the high-consequence areas of Chester and Delaware counties within the impact radius of Mariner East. The pipeline also runs through Berks County.
“We have pipelines currently transporting highly volatile products through our communities, and our local first responders are not able to adequately plan their emergency response or mitigate our risk because the operator has failed to cooperate with repeated requests for their Emergency Response Plan,” said state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester County. “Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco are risking a catastrophe, which is a criminal offense.
“I am grateful to my colleagues for their collaboration on this request. The bipartisan support for this moratorium underscores how important it is to take every possible step to ensure the safety of our communities and our first responders.”
The letter was signed by the following state representatives Rep. Steve Barrar, R-60 of Concord; Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-156 of West Chester; Friel Otten, D-155 of West Whiteland; Rep. Kristine Howard, D-167; Rep. Tim Hennessey, R-26; Rep. John Lawrence, R-13; Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown; Christina Sappey, D-158; Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-157; Rep. Dan Williams, D-74; and Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161, as well as state Sens. Andy Dinniman, D-19; Katie Muth, D-44; and Tim Kearney, D-26 of Swarthmore.
Mariner East spokesmen did not return a call for comment as yet.
The company is building and operating the controversial Mariner East project, transporting volatile liquid gases across the full width of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region to a facility in Marcus Hook.
Residents have opposed the project for years, saying the pipeline never should have been routed through densely populated neighborhoods, in close proximity to schools and senior centers.
Mariner East 1, which is a decades old smaller pipe that has been retrofitted to carry the new materials, has been shut down for weeks since a sinkhole formed in a Chester County neighborhood for the second time.
Mariner East 2 came online the last week of December, albeit not in the form Energy Transfer originally proposed. Mariner East 2 was proposed as a 20-inch pipe, but because of constant delays and other problems, Energy Transfer plugged in a hybrid version of several smaller pipes to fill in the gaps. Completion of the full Mariner East 2 pipeline now likely will not take place until 2020.
Mariner East 2x remains under construction.
In February the state Department of Environmental Protection halted all permits for the Mariner East 2 project, saying Energy Transfer had failed to take proper actions after an accident that caused an explosion in western Pennsylvania.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan last month announced he was launching a criminal investigation into the construction of Mariner East 2, noting his belief that state officials had not adequately protected citizens rights and safety. He now is impaneling an investigative grand jury to hear testimony from witnesses and review documents.
February 8, 2019
Legislators respond to DEP decision to suspend review of Energy Transfer permits
HARRISBURG, Feb. 8 – State Reps. Carolyn Comitta, Danielle Friel Otten, Kristine Howard, Leanne Krueger, Christina Sappey and Melissa Shusterman met with Gov. Tom Wolf and his staff last week to address the growing problems with Energy Transfer’s Mariner East project.
Today, those representatives have issued the following statement regarding news that the Department of Environmental Protection has suspended review of permit applications and other pending approvals for Energy Transfer due to noncompliance:
“We applaud the unwavering efforts of community members who continue to make their voices heard and draw attention to serious hazards and areas of oversight that need improvement.
“The action taken by the Department of Environmental Protection today is a step in the right direction.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to have a seat at the table for our communities and we look forward to continued collaboration with our state agencies and the governor’s staff to put the interests of the people of Pennsylvania first and foremost. There is still a lot of work to be done and we will use every tool available to us to make our community’s voice heard.”
The same six representatives sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission earlier this week, urging action related to a recent sinkhole along the Mariner East 1 pipeline. The letter can be found here. Source
January 11, 2019
Democratic Politicians Clean Up Pennsylvania National Park Amid Shutdown
January 10, 2019
Rep. Howard joins state reps in Valley Forge Park Cleanup
Out here keeping Valley Forge National Historical Park clean and running during the federal government shutdown. We are lending a hand on behalf of all Americans who simply want this shutdown to end before irreparable damage is done to our beautiful parks and alleviating the burden on the Commonwealth’s furloughed federal employees.
October 10, 2018
Democratic candidates discuss issues at public forum
WEST GOSHEN — Christina Sappey, a candidate running for state representative for the 158th Legislative District, waited until the very end of the program to emphatically state what all five candidates at a forum had voiced earlier, to a lesser degree.
“Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote,” Sappey, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Rep. Eric Roe, implored an audience of 150, at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Monday night.
The forum was organized and run by the Chester County League of Women Voters and the West Chester Chapter of the NAACP.
During the 2½-hour forum, five Democratic candidates, all of whom are women, answered questions posed by the audience and event organizers about topics including, health care, water quality, literacy, business taxes and incarceration.
All the candidates in the county were invited. There will be a similar forum with different speakers at St. Paul’s, on Monday, Oct. 15, at 6:30 p.m.
Democratic state Rep. Carolyn Comitta is running against Republican Nick Deminski in the 156th District, and told the attentive audience to vote for people who share their values.
“Your state representative is your last stop from protecting all the people,” Comitta said. “Elect someone who gets it.
“Your vote is your voice.”
Kristine Howard is a Democrat running in the 167th District against incumbent Republican Rep. Duane Milne.
“We need to elect the right legislators,” she said, “We need to take back our power from some extremists.
“This is a really important election.”
Democrat Danielle Friel Otten is facing off against Republican Rep. Becky Corbin in the 155th District.
“Educate yourself about who is on the ballot, vote, and talk to your neighbors,” Friel Otten said.
Sappey said that it all depends on who the public votes for.
“It’s time for us to start electing people who are going to work together,” Sappey said.
Democrat Chrissy Houlahan is facing off against Republican Greg McCauley to fill the seat vacated by Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello in what she said is the “new and improved” 6th Congressional District, referencing a state Supreme Court decision to draw new congressional districts after finding the state’s previous congressional map violated the state constitution due to partisan gerrymandering that favored Republicans over Democrats.
The business owner, MIT graduate, former teacher and veteran, listed health care, decent jobs, a great education and a safe planet as her priorities.
The candidates were asked about “reaching across the aisle.”
Friel Otten suggested that more women should be elected and that politics is not just a Democratic or Republican issue.
“We have the opportunity to look each other in the eye,” she said.
Said Comitta: “It’s all your perspective. It’s about being in this role for the right reason.”
Sappey was a stay-at-home mom and said becoming a state rep is not her dream job.
“You have to enter every conversation knowing that you have to give something up,” she said.
The candidates were asked about incarceration. Howard talked about “super long” prison sentences.
“We had more juvenile lifers than any other state,” Howard said. “We have a very, very harsh justice system in this state and prosecutors hold all the cards.”
The group of candidates talked about supporting small businesses.
Friel Otten said that when manufacturing goes overseas, people on “Main Street” can no longer exist.
“The burden of taxes is on the small business owner,” Friel Otten said. “Close the loopholes (for big businesses) and take the pressure off of small businesses.”
Sappey is a proponent of businesses.
“We need to make it more attractive for businesses to come to Pennsylvania,” Sappey said.
Comitta said that when you buy local, you make an investment in the community.
“For every dollar you spend in a local business, 68 cents goes back into the community,” Comitta said.
Education was also discussed.
“Our municipal government is in a position to choose between the youngest and oldest residents and that is a crime,” Friel Otten said.
Howard favors fair funding for schools.
“We know this is the right thing to do, we have the wrong people,” Howard said.
When asked about the natural gas boom and enacting an extraction tax, Comitta said Pennsylvania is “sitting on a gold mine.
“I’m not against people making a lot of money, but it needs to be done safely and cleanly and (any proposed tax) should be used for kids in schools.”
While Howard said the liquid gases need to be taxed, Friel Otten said that several alternatives should be addressed, such as, creation of siting agencies, oversight of out-of-state companies, and taking any new tax revenue to build renewable energy alternatives.
Sappey reiterated the need to vote for reps supporting the Affordable Care Act.
“Make sure we vote for people who understand how important this issue is — the costs are through the roof,” Sappey said.
St. Paul’s Pastor Wayne E. Croft Sr. welcomed the guests and said he was pleased that the NAACP and League of Women Voters had crafted a platform enabling voters to make informed decisions.
Cassandra Jones, NAACP chair for political action committee, said that the audience was pleased to ask questions, face-to-face.
Pamela Gray, president of the Chester County League of Women Voters appreciated the “very engaged candidates” and the turnout of prospective voters. Source
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