Wilkes-Barre City critic Mark Robbins back in court on dubious charges
On November 20, 2013, Independent Gazette contributor and Wilkes-Barre City administration critic Mark Robbins appeared before District Magistrate Donald Whittaker of Nanticoke for a preliminary hearing. City police had charged Robbins with summary harassment and misdemeanor stalking after he reportedly spoke with Cathie Bella, of Sherman Hills, by phone for a cumulative duration of 2.6 minutes, transmitted one Facebook message, and mailed Bella a copy of the charges he was filing against her. According to court papers and phone records, all communications between Bella and Robbins took place on the same afternoon, however, in court both Bella and Wilkes-Barre City police contended that because Bella did not receive the mailed letter until days after the electronic contact, that particular communication should be treated as a separate incident.
Robbins asserted that he was inquiring about extremely lewd and lascivious letters he received in the mail bearing Bella’s return address. He said he also reported these to several law enforcement agencies over the course of several months. “If you get a letter in the mail, and want to inquire about why it was sent, would you not call the sender?” asked Robbins.
Robbins also explained that he made more than a single call only because of dropped calls and poor cell reception. He further contended that two of the telephone exchanges with Bella occurred with her clear consent, as Robbins called Bella to notify her that he would drop off a copy of the letters he had received for her review at her apartment complex, and again phoned Bella to inform her that he had indeed delivered the documents as she had requested.
According to the police report filed on September 20, 2013 by Patrolman Eugene Rittel, Bella first complained to city Patrolman Frank Dehaut about Robbins on September 17, 2013, the day of the phone calls and Facebook message. The police report stated:
Victim BELLA, stated she received a phone call from a male she did not know on September 17th at about 1900 hours and the male stated his name is Mark Robbins. The victim told police that Robbins started yelling at her using lewd and profane language, and then hung up on her according to the report filed by [Patrolman] Rittel.
Nevertheless, in court, Dehaut testified that when Bella spoke to him on September 17 she made no mention of any such offensive language. Robbins’ attorney, Tom Marsilio, countered by asking Dehaut, “If Robbins did make profane statements, wouldn’t Bella have reported these when they were freshest in her mind?” Dehaut did not answer Marsilio’s question.
Robbins insisted that during all of the calls he remained professional. “Assuming that anyone who wrote such letters would likely have emotional issues, I did ask that Bella get counseling. I even offered to pay to get her started.” Robbins claimed he never used profanity of any sort, telling the Independent Gazette that he was in the car with a female friend. “I would never use that language, period, yet alone [use it] in the presence of a lady.” Brenda Meehan, of Wilkes Barre, testified in court that she was present in the car with Robbins on September 17 while Robbins phoned Bella. Meehan stated that she heard no use of profanity, but instead said she could hear a woman on the phone yelling at Robbins. “I couldn’t make out what she was saying, but I could hear a woman’s voice echoing out of the phone, even as it was up to Mark’s ear,” stated Meehan under oath.
The misdemeanor charge—and the alleged profanity—were added to a police report six days after the phone contact . . . and three days after the initial police incident report was posted online, absent the charge. Robbins has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, Chief Gerry Dessoye, and the former city contract tower, LAG Towing. Robbins broke a story about LAG Towing and their loaner vehicle program with city police llast spring while taking photos of the cars’ license plates for the Gazette. He was cited for trespassing behind the police station in the course of capturing the photos.
Through an open records request, the Independent Gazette learned that Robbins was the only person ever to be cited for trespassing on the grounds of police headquarters, even though the corner is a common shortcut for downtown workers and high school students. Several other reporters were filmed in the same location while covering the story that Robbins brought to light, but were not themselves charged with any infractions. The trespassing charges were eventually dismissed on appeal to Luzerne County.
Following the hearing, Bella refused to respond to a reasonable, rational request (stated in a normal tone of voice) for a statement for the Gazette, exclaiming, “Get away from me, you’re scaring me!”
What’s Next: Robbins’ arraignment date is set for February 7, 2013, in the Luzerne County Courthouse.