Penn State

Ethnic intimidation charges dismissed in racial attack

A Penn State student will not face ethnic intimidation charges after an alleged assault Saturday.

Nicholas Tavella, 19, of Greensburg, will head toward trial on a slate of other charges after his Wednesday preliminary hearing.

The seven charges include misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct, stalking and harassment and summary counts of public drunkenness and purchase, consumption, possession, or transportation of liquor or malt brewed beverages. All of those were bound over by District Judge Allen Sinclair.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, on Saturday Tavella followed the victim, also a Penn State student, from an area close to Park Hill Apartments to the intersection of Bigler and Hastings roads.

The victim testified in court Wednesday that on the night of the alleged assault, Tavella initiated contact, followed and assaulted him.

According to the testimony, the victim was walking home from visiting friends when Tavella asked him if he was “going to rape a girl.”

When the victim tried to progress toward his dorm, he said Tavella continued to pursue him, asking if he was “trying to get away.”

Tavella allegedly berated him with questions, asking, “where are you from, the Middle East?”

Near the intersection of Bigler and Hastings roads, a Penn State police officer witnessed Tavella grabbing the neck of the victim. The victim testified that while Tavella had his hands around the victim’s neck, Tavella told him, “if you get away, I’ll put a bullet in you.”

The victim told the court he noticed a police officer in the vicinity and gestured for help.

The police officer testified that he separated the two men.

According to Penn State police officer Cole McDaniel, Tavella “appeared to be intoxicated” and “had a can of Busch beer in his left pocket,” when he arrived on the scene.

McDaniel questioned Tavella, who admitted he was “racially profiling (the victim) because he looked suspicious.” McDaniel testified that Tavella also told him that he “probably grabbed him and probably said something racist.”

McDaniel testified before the court that when he asked Tavella why he was following the victim, he admitted that it was because “he appeared to be of Asian or Middle Eastern descent.”

Tavella’s attorney, Wayne Bradburn, requested Sinclair throw out the felony charge of ethnic intimidation, because the statute requires the defendant had “malicious intent.”

In Bradburn’s defense, he cited the “Paris attacks, which took place three days prior,” and that it may have been “his love of country,” and “Donald Trump rhetoric covered in the media that may have incited fear of suspicious individuals.”

Centre County Assistant District Attorney Jessica Lathrop told Sinclair he would be “sanctioning blatant bigotry,” if he dismissed the ethnic intimidation charge. Lathrop argued, “he is asking you to let this defendant out of a blatant felony.”

Sinclair did dismiss the ethnic intimidation charge, saying that Lathrop did not establish the crime ethnic intimidation had been committed against the victim.

Lathrop may refile ethnic intimidation charges against Tavella.

Tavella refused to comment on the dropped charge of ethnic intimidation.

Jalelah Ahmed: 814-231-4631, @jalelahahmed