Conflicting Statements In Student Sex Investigation
WILKES-BARRE — In the build-up to a high-profile arrest in a student sex case that later fizzled for lack of evidence, multiple people refuted allegations by a key confidential witness — and the purported victim herself denied any inappropriate contact, according to a transcript of a deposition of District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis filed in court this week.
The transcript, filed as part of a malicious prosecution case against Luzerne County detectives Charles Balogh and Debbie Parker, shows the investigation into former Coughlin High School teacher Brian D. Hampel was replete with contradicting statements and allegations that witnesses felt harassed and threatened by investigators.
Hampel’s attorney, Barry H. Dyller, said Wednesday he soon intends to add Luzerne County as a defendant to the case based upon Salavantis’ statements that she thought detectives were correct in withholding exculpatory evidence from the charging documents.
Read District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis’ deposition
“That’s an unconstitutional policy,” Dyller said. “It’s really distressing that they arrest this guy on a notorious crime and have him engage in a perp walk. They know they can’t win and ultimately they just withdraw the charges — but not before destroying him.”
Salavantis declined to comment on the case Wednesday.
Hampel, 48, of Sweet Valley, gained notoriety during the student sex trial of former school administrator Stephen Stahl, a fellow teacher who was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a minor at the school in 2004.
Prosecutors at Stahl’s trial claimed Hampel — who just last week was sentenced to house arrest in his fifth drunken driving case — served as a “lookout” while Stahl had sex with a 16-year-old girl in a classroom during school hours, a claim Hampel denied.
In October 2016, prosecutors charged Hampel with corruption of minors for allegedly having his own sexual relationship with a teenage student. But a county judge dismissed the case in May 2017 after the defense revealed the girl had never reported inappropriate contact.
In fact, investigators only ever had a “brief conversation” by phone with the purported victim, and never met with her in person, according to the transcript of Salavantis’ deposition. The document was filed as part of a legal dispute about what discovery information is confidential under the state grand jury law.
In a conversation with Balogh in January 2016 — nine months before Hampel’s arrest — the girl “adamantly denied” any inappropriate relationship with the teacher, Balogh wrote in a report detailing the conversation.
But Salavantis said there could be “many reasons” for excluding such a statement from the criminal complaint. She noted the girl’s father contacted the detective indicating she didn’t want any “negative publicity” about the case. Salavantis also said there could be “other reasons” why she would say it never happened.
The transcript has Salavantis acknowledging at least three different witnesses — including the purported victim — contradicted information that one confidential witness provided. The contradictions were not included in the charging documents because of uncertainty about what to believe, she said.
“This is where this gets confusing,” Salavantis said. “Because there were many witnesses that were saying the same thing and were directed to — in my understanding, were directed to say the same thing, that — that people were being rude to them and they were becoming uncooperative. So that was a common theme amongst a lot of these witnesses. So I would not believe that that would be included because you didn’t know what to believe as you were interviewing them.”
Among the allegations of rude behavior included claims that one assistant district attorney said a witness who claimed to have no information should “stop being such a b---h” and that another prosecutor advised that the witness “stop trying to protect Mr. Hampel and start worrying about protecting herself,” according to the testimony.
Salavantis maintained that she was surprised by those allegations.
“I have never received anything from anyone else stating that anyone in my office harassed them, threatened them,” Salavantis said. “Nothing came to me at all from anyone. So learning and reading this, it’s shocking to me. Because if someone really felt that way, they should have come to me, like you said, as the district attorney of Luzerne County. But no one ever did.”
The head prosecutor stood by her staff’s decision to exclude the potentially exculpatory evidence from the charging documents, saying she trusts in the judgment of her assistant district attorneys and detectives who are familiar with their cases. She also noted that such evidence would be turned over to the defense during the discovery phase leading up to trial.
When asked about whether there was a specific policy regarding including exculpatory evidence in charging documents, Salavantis said there was not and that she relies upon the expertise of her legal staff to decide what information to include.
“You know, I don’t even know if it’s even possible to create a policy to put what is in — what should be in an affidavit of probable cause,” Salavantis said. “Every case is so different.”
But Dyller maintained Wednesday that Salavantis’ comments show the office has a policy of withholding evidence that is beneficial to the defense.
“It’s their job to gather the evidence, but it’s not their job to make the decision if there’s probable cause. It’s their job to give all the evidence to someone neutral, without bias,” Dyller said. “If that’s what had happened, that neutral magistrate would have said, ‘This isn’t fair.’”
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