Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
By Mandy Hofmockel
Collegian Staff Writer
Prosecutors dropped all charges Wednesday against The Daily Collegian photographer Michael Felletter — whom police have accused of inciting riot — only to announce he will likely face a new set of charges in a week.
Three other students charged with identical misdemeanors also found their counts withdrawn Wednesday, but will not face further legal action, the State College Chief of Police said.
Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira said Felletter’s misdemeanor counts — failure to disperse and disorderly conduct — were withdrawn because the detective who filed the charges was sick and could not testify at the preliminary hearing.
The prosecutor said he expects the charges to be re-filed in about a week.
“Our opinion of the evidence against Mr. Felletter has not changed,” Madeira said. “We would’ve had a preliminary hearing today if our officer was not home sick.”
The prosecution asked to postpone the hearing, but Magisterial District Judge Carmine Prestia denied the request, Madeira said.
In the same morning, prosecutors withdrew charges against students Robert K. Gurgiolo, of Wexford; Brian M. Patterson, of Downingtown; and Justin C. Rajan, of Downingtown. The three students, who faced the same misdemeanors as Felletter, will not see their charges re-filed, State College Chief of Police Tom King said.
King said police couldn’t be sure the three men, who police said had climbed a tree, had heard orders to get down and leave the area — prompting the decision to drop the cases.
Not so with Felletter — Madeira said his case is “completely different.” While the prosecution isn’t planning any further action against the three students, the photographer will likely head to the county courthouse again.
That’s something defense attorney Andrew Shubin isn’t happy about. It would be “opportunistic” and “upsetting” if the prosecution withdrew the charges to avoid a preliminary hearing without one of its witnesses, he said.
Everything was in order, he said: The defense was prepared to proceed with the hearing Wednesday and witnesses were present for both sides. And the missing detective in question would likely have never taken the stand, the attorney said.
“I doubt he would have testified,” Shubin said. “He would have had nothing firsthand to testify.”
But if the District Attorney’s office withdrew the charges to take another look at the issue, Shubin said that would be a “fair and conservative approach.”
Police said Felletter took photographs during the post-Ohio State football game riot and was told on multiple occasions to leave the area. Felletter, on assignment with the Collegian, was eventually charged with “taking photographs that would excite the crowd and encourage destructive behavior,” according to the criminal complaint.
Terry Casey, editor in chief of the Collegian, said he and the Collegian’s Board of Editors have maintained the case is a First Amendment issue and Felletter was arrested for doing his job.
“It was exciting to hear that the charges were withdrawn,” he said, “but knowing that they will likely be re-filed is a disappointment.”