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A county district judge has for the second time dismissed felony charges filed against Aliquippa’s suspended assistant police chief alleging he texted obscene materials to a minor.
District Judge Joseph Schafer dismissed felony charges against Joseph Perciavalle at a preliminary hearing today. The charges were disseminating sexually explicit material to a minor and unlawful contact with a minor.
District Judge Edward Howe previously dismissed those same charges on Dec. 4.
Perciavalle was first arrested by Beaver County Detectives on June 8, 2018 on charges of felony distribution of sexually explicit material to a minor, felony unlawful contact with a minor, and misdemeanor corruption of a minor.
County detectives alleged that Perciavalle sent then-17-year-old Lauren Watkins a text message containing a short video of a semi-nude woman urinating while on a swing.
Both Perciavalle and Watkins have said the “meme” video was sent to her by mistake as part of a group text message intended for her father, Aliquippa Police Sgt. Kenneth Watkins, who has since been demoted to patrolman.
The video was discovered when detectives were examining Lauren Watkins’ phone as part of their investigation into the 2018 Mother’s Day murder of Rachael DelTondo.
During a preliminary hearing on Dec. 4, Watkins testified that the clip was accidentally sent to her by Perciavalle, and that she had not viewed it until she was shown a copy by county detectives as part of their investigation.
District Judge Edward Howe subsequently dismissed the two felony charges of disseminating sexually explicit materials and unlawful contact with a minor, but held for trial the misdemeanor corruption of minors charge.
Howe also held for court a charge from a second case filed by county detectives alleging a felony wiretap violation for a recording Perciavalle made of Aliquippa Police Chief Donald Couch, who is also currently on administrative suspension.
County District Attorney David Lozier’s office removed itself from the cases earlier this year after an ethics advisory opinion by the Pennsylvania Bar Association determined he had a conflict because Perciavalle intended to call him as a witness.
Perciavalle alleges that he provided Lozier with evidence of corruption in Aliquippa in 2016, but that Lozier ignored it and is now engaged in a retaliatory prosecution against him. Lozier admits he met with Perciavalle and that the officer provided him with documents, but vehemently denies Perciavalle’s assertions that he ignored evidence of wrongdoing by Aliquippa police or is engaged in retaliation.
The state Attorney General’s office subsequently took over prosecution of the cases against Peciavalle and on May 9 refiled the two felony charges against him that were dismissed by Howe last year.
The “double jeopardy” clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution does not apply to preliminary hearings because there is no possibility a defendant can be convicted at that stage of the proceedings.
Unlike the last preliminary hearing, today prosecutors did not call Watkins to the stand, telling the judge it does not matter whether or not she viewed herself as a victim.
The results were the same, with a second judge dismissing the case.
Defense attorney Steven Townsend strongly criticized the Attorney General’s Office for refiling the charges against Perciavalle, echoing his clients assertions that he believes what the public is witnessing is retaliation against a whistleblower.
“It was so bad,” Townsend told BeaverCountian.com following the hearing.
“They with intent didn’t even call the purported victim in the case. This is just such a disingenuous use of our judicial system.”
In a motion still pending before the court, Townsend is asking a common pleas judge to dispose of the remaining corruption of a minor charge from Dec. 4, saying the case can not stand as a matter of law when the underlying offenses have all been dismissed. Townsend also has a motion pending to suppress the recorded conversation between Perciavalle and Couch, alleging county detectives overstepped the authority of their search warrant when going through Perciavalle’s phone.
A hearing on the motions was set to take place next week, but is now expected to be postponed due to scheduling conflicts with attorneys in the case.
Perciavalle has been suspended with pay from the Aliquippa Police Department since charges were first filed against him last June.