Prosecution fails to prove case of disorderly conduct
After nearly two hours of testimony, all by the prosecution, State Sen. Bob Mensch (R-24 ) was found not guilty last Thursday of a summary disorderly conduct charge lodged against him in March.
Mensch, 66, is a resident of Marlborough Township and represents parts of Montgomery, Bucks, Lehigh and Northampton counties.
According to a Pennsylvania State Police report, on March 9, 2011, at approximately 3 p.m., Mensch was traveling eastbound on I-78 when a motorist, who was also traveling eastbound, allegedly observed him displaying a black handgun.
Brian Salisbury, a 56-year-old Palmer Township man who called 911, claimed that Mensch showed him a gun as the two drove along the interstate at 70 mph. Salisbury said that Mensch held the firearm in the palm of his right hand, lap-level and near his right leg, aimed at the dashboard. Salisbury was driving a Kia Sorento and Mensch a Chevrolet Trailblazer.
In a May hearing before Berks County District Justice Andrea Book, Mensch testified that it was Salisbury who provoked the incident. According to Mensch, after he passed Salisbury, it was Salisbury who sped up alongside him and began making unknown gestures toward him. Mensch said that Salisbury tailgated him for about eight miles until he exited for fuel.
Salisbury testified that he, too, exited after Mensch at the same gas station because “he always stops there because it is the halfway point of his trip from home to work and he can stretch,” which he is required to do due to a medical condition.
Book found Mensch guilty in May. During the hearing Mensch claimed that it was a cell phone that Salisbury saw and appealed the verdict the Berks County Court.
At last week’s appeal in front of Berks County Judge Thomas Eshelman, Assistant District Attorney James Goldsmith presented the prosecution’s case that included testimony from Salisbury and State Police Troopers John Wenrich, Matthew Brady and Dallas Hackman.
Salisbury again testified that he saw Mensch display a gun that day and said he made “five- to ten-second eye contact” with Mensch. He described the gun as about 8 inches long.
Defense attorney Matthew Haverstick of Philadelphia questioned Salisbury about his ability to hold eye contact, looking left at a motorist while driving 70 mph on the interstate. Salisbury maintained his claim and added that Mensch had a “very serious look on his face and it scared me.”
Salisbury, traveling in the right lane, said that he dropped back and Mensch proceeded eastward and eventually exited at the Shartlesville exit where he stopped at the Love station for fuel. Salisbury admitted he saw Mensch exit and he exited there also. When asked by Haverstick if he saw Mensch exit and was scared, “why he chose to exit there and pull into the Love station as well,” Salisbury said it was a “regular stop for him.”
Salisbury testified that he called 911 while still traveling east on I-78 and that the call ended after he got off the highway. But he also said that he called 911 and said he was “Here at the Love’s” and said he was standing about 50 feet away from Mensch’s vehicle and provided the license number. Salisbury admitted that at no time did anyone ask him if the item he saw could have been a cell phone.
After Mensch fueled his vehicle he proceeded back onto the highway. Salisbury said that a state trooper arrived and, after receiving confirmation of the owner of the license plate (Commonwealth of Pa.) the trooper told Salisbury that “it’s one of us.” At that point Salisbury told the trooper that he didn’t want to prosecute the driver, “just have him reprimanded.”
Mensch was stopped on I-78 by Pa. State Troopers Wenrich and Hackman. Wenrich testified that he saw a black “day-timer” on the seat and something that appeared to be a handgun inside of it. He identified the item as a black Glock pistol that Mensch had recently purchased.
Hackman testified that Mensch told him he had another gun in the glove box. That was contrary to testimony given at the May hearing when officials said the guns were found after a search of the Mensch’s vehicle. Neither gun, both of which were less than 5 inches long, matched the 8-inch-long description given by Salisbury.
Police said that Mensch voluntarily surrendered the guns and followed them to their barracks where he was interviewed by Hackman. During that interview, Mensch stated that the gun was newly purchased and originally under the seat, still in its box. But when he saw Salisbury, who Mensch maintained was harassing him along the interstate, at the Love gas station he discretely removed it and put it in his jacket before pumping gas. Police did find a gun box under the seat of Mensch’s vehicle.
Under questioning by Haverstick, police replied that they didn’t ask Salisbury if the item he saw could have been a cell phone.
Just prior to rendering his decision, Eshelman read the definition of disorderly conduct from the Pa. Crimes Code. The section states, “A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.”
Saying “you have not proved this,” Eshelman then said, “You are not guilty – goodbye.”
In addition to Haverstick, Mensch was also represented by attorney Raheem S. Watson of Philadelphia.
According to Mensch, his defense team was armed with expert testimony from a professional reconstructionist ready to prove that the incident could not have happened as the prosecution described. The defense never got a chance to present their case because the prosecution failed to prove that the law had been broken.