CLEARFIELD – A Philipsburg man accused of ethnic intimidation and arson had some of his charges dropped following a preliminary hearing on Wednesday.
Ryan Held, 19, faced charges of ethnic intimidation (2), arson, recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief and harassment.
The testimony began with an 18-year-old Woodland woman. She testified that on the evening of Aug. 21, at around 12 a.m., some friends of hers were staying at her residence. She said one of her friends noticed a fire outside her home. She said when they went out she saw a burning cross and a gas can. She said one of her friends attempted to put out the fire. While this was going on, 911 was dialed and the state police and fire personnel soon arrived.
She also testified that she received a text from Held, which used a racial slur. Assistant District Attorney Trudy Lumadue read a copy of the text, which stated they would “get that (racial slur) on the next one.”
Under cross-examination she indicated the burning cross was closer to the road than to the residence. She also testified that no one required medical attention.
A juvenile male testified that on Aug. 21 he went to the residence to spend the night. He said he arrived between 6 and 7 p.m. He stated that later he saw a flash outside and when he went out, saw a burning cross. He said the cross was next to the road. He also indicated that he and his friend tried to extinguish the fire. He also testified that he was half-black, and that he had knew of the text message discussed earlier, but had never seen it.
State Trooper Richard Magnuson testified that he responded to the scene on Aug. 21. He said he saw a small patch of grass still burning, a wooden cross and a piece of wood that had been burnt. He also stated that there was melted plastic, which he believed to be a gas can. He said that cross was about two feet tall, and sat about 30 feet from the house.
Trooper Kim Ronan testified that she was assigned to the case on Aug. 23. She said that Held, who also goes by Ryan Foley, was brought in for questioning. She said he was a person of interest. Ronan said that initially, Held said he had no involvement in the incident. Defense Attorney Dave Mason objected to Ronan testifying to any statements his client may have made during a custodial interview. The objection was upheld, and Ronan testified that she took a recorded statement, at which time Held was Mirandized. She said that he admitted to the cross burning. She said he also denied that anyone else was involved.
Under cross-examination, Mason asked Ronan, who sat through the other witnesses’ testimony, if it was the first time she heard of two of the witnesses trying to extinguish the fire. She indicated that it was. She was also asked about the evidence, which she said was taken into custody on Aug. 23.
Mason, in his closing, argued against the charges of reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation. He said that under the section of ethnic intimidation charged, the crime required the commission of another predacative offense. Mason argued that for ethnic intimidation to be charged, the action had to be assaultive to a person of race or damage done to property belonging to a person of race. This would be reflective of charges of assault, arson or criminal trespass. He also argued that the property damaged did not belong to the woman who testified at the beginning of the hearing, nor to the juvenile male who testified.
Lumadue argued, regarding ethnic intimidation, that there was damage done to property, however minimal. She asked Magisterial District Judge James Hawkins to amend the complaint and list the property owners as alleged victims. She also asked the he allow the commonwealth to add criminal trespass to the list of charges Held faced.
Hawkins said the commonwealth could refile, but that he was dismissing the charges of reckless endangerment, arson and ethnic intimidation. The summary offenses of harassment and criminal mischief were bound over.