Fighting For Important Causes In State And Federal Courts
A 24-year-old man cited for disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and harassment said at his hearing on Friday that he was beaten and restrained by All American Rathskeller employees in a way similar to that which led to the death of Penn State student Salvador Peter Serrano in October.
Eyad Elbattah, of Forty Fort, was involved in an altercation on Aug. 3 with employees of the All American Rathskeller, 108 Pugh St. Elbattah appeared before District Justice Jonathan Grine on Friday to contest the citations against him.
Rathskeller manager Christopher Rosengrant was involved in the altercation and was subpoenaed to testify at Elbattah’s hearing.
At the hearing, Grine advised Rosengrant of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“Anything you say in these proceedings can be used against you in other proceedings,” Grine told Rosengrant.
After speaking with his attorney over the telephone, Rosengrant decided to assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify.
Rosengrant and his brother Jason Rosengrant are charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Penn State student Peter Serrano’s death.
Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, who is prosecuting Rosengrant in the Serrano case, said he could not comment on whether he would use Elbattah’s case during the Serrano trial to show a pattern of behavior by Rosengrant.
“That’s too speculative at this point,” Gricar said.
Rosengrant’s attorney, Robert Munley, also would not comment on whether Elbattah’s case might affect the Serrano trial.
Serrano died on Oct. 26 after an altercation with several Rathskeller employees. When police arrived, Serrano was being restrained by Rathskeller employees and was unresponsive. He was taken to Mount Nittany Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead.
During Friday’s hearing, Elbattah testified that Rathskeller employees also forcefully restrained him.
Elbattah, who was a Penn State Hazleton student at the time of the incident, was in State College to attend a wedding.
At about 11 p.m. on Aug. 2, Elbattah said he and several members of the wedding party tried to get into the Rathskeller but were refused entry. After a short verbal confrontation, the party left and went to another bar.
Elbattah said during his testimony that the altercation took place when he was walking down Pugh Street at about 2 a.m. on Aug. 3. He said a Rathskeller employee attacked him from behind. He said a man with a large arm choked him from behind and brought him to the ground. While on the ground, Elbattah said the man continued to choke him while forcing his knee into his back. He said he felt short of breath and slipped in and out of consciousness.
Elbattah was later taken to Centre Community Hospital, now Mount Nittany Medical Center. According to a medical record entered into evidence at the hearing, Elbattah was treated for “acute facial abrasions and acute head contusions.”
At Friday’s hearing, Elbattah could not name the person who he said choked him. However, Elbattah pointed to Rosengrant, who was in the courtroom along with the other Rathskeller employees involved in the altercation, and said he thought it was probably him because he recognized Rosengrant’s large arms.
Rathskeller doorman Joseph Kunkle gave a very different account of the incident.
Kunkle said during his testimony that Elbattah was not simply walking down the street when the altercation began. He said Elbattah approached the entrance of the Rathskeller around 2 a.m. and asked him if anyone from the wedding party was in the bar. Kunkle said he told Elbattah that no one from the party was in the bar, and then Elbattah hit him in the face. Kunkle said he called to other Rathskeller employees for help and asked someone to call the police.
Kunkle said Elbattah began backing away from the bar after hitting him, saying, “Don’t follow me. If you do, someone else is going to get hit.” Kunkle said he and other Rathskeller employees followed Elbattah onto Pugh Street to restrain him until police arrived.
Kunkle said he did not see anyone choke Elbattah. He also said Rosengrant was not involved much in the incident because he had recently undergone hernia surgery.
State College Police Department officer Kris Slabic responded to the call on Aug. 3. At Friday’s hearing, she said when she arrived at the scene, she observed Rathskeller employees restraining Elbattah while he struggled with them. She said she interviewed the employees and then placed Elbattah under arrest. She later cited him for disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and harassment.
On cross-examination, Elbattah’s attorney Andrew Shubin asked Slabic if she actually witnessed the incident. Slabic said she had not and said her information came primarily from Rathskeller employees. Shubin then asked Slabic if she interviewed Elbattah about what happened. She said she did not.
During his testimony, Elbattah said police never talked to him about the incident. He said he called the State College Police Department five or six times in the weeks following the incident, but his calls were never returned.
During his closing statement to the district justice, Shubin said Slabic’s failure to speak to Elbattah about his account of the incident had serious repercussions.
“This officer arrested the wrong person, and if she had done the right job, Peter Serrano might still be alive,” Shubin said.
In her closing statement, Slabic countered this claim.
“[Elbattah] read about Peter Serrano and is jumping on the bandwagon to respond to these citations,” Slabic said.
Elbattah said reading about what happened to Serrano “took my breath away.” Because he felt his situation was similar to what happened to Serrano, he contacted the attorney representing Serrano’s family. He said he told the attorney, “If you need me for anything, I’m here. I’ve been through this.”
Grine said he will make a decision on Elbattah’s citations early this week.