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Disorderly conduct charges thrown out in Bellwood neighbor dispute appeal

A Blair County judge on Thursday overruled a decision by District Magistrate Fred Miller and tossed out disorderly conduct charges against a Bellwood woman involved in a neighborhood dispute.
Judge Elizabeth Doyle said there wasn’t sufficient evidence for the charges to stand against Diane Vallade.
“Vindication. Vindication. Vindication,” Vallade told The Daily Herald yesterday morning. “I don’t think I could have had a better day if I would have won the lottery.”
The charges stem from an incident that occurred on Fifth Street in Bellwood in December, but according to Vallade, the dispute between neighbors began shortly after she and Robert Benson moved to the area in 2000.
In those four years, Vallade claims she’s been harassed and threatened by neighbors and to this day, the Bellwood Borough Police Department has done nothing to help them. In fact, she claims Bellwood police are doing more harm than good evidenced by citations for disorderly conduct and harrassment they recently received in the mail.
According to Vallade, the battle with the neighbors began soon after they moved in. She said she can’t mow her lawn without headphones on because of the rude remarks shouted at her. She said the neighbors would burn “stinky” garbage for 10 to 15 hours straight. She also said the one neighbor runs his plow onto her property, which causes extensive damage.
She said she contacted police on several occasions, but nothing was ever done.
In January, Magistrate Miller heard testimony from the neighbors involved and found Vallade and Benson guilty of disorderly conduct for an incident that occurred on Dec. 14. Benson was found “not guilty” of harassment for an event that occurred on Dec. 6.
Testimony revealed that Bob Wertz, a Fourth Street resident, was plowing snow in an alley that was adjacent to Vallade’s and Benson’s property on Dec. 6. Benson claimed Wertz plowed the snow onto his property and was trespassing, but Wertz said the property is owned by Bellwood Borough.
Testimony also showed there was a brief communication between Wertz and Benson. Some witnesses claimed it lasted 30 seconds while others said it went on for more than five minutes.
Police claimed this conversation and Benson’s demeanor throughout warranted a summary violation for harassment because Wertz and fellow neighbor Larry Miller were annoyed, offended and alarmed by Benson in a public location.
Benson’s attorney, Terry Despoy of Altoona, claimed the police didn’t show a pattern of this type of behavior to warrant the harassment charges.
Miller agreed and said, based on case law, that he had to find Benson not guilty of the charge.
In the second case, police alleged Vallade and Benson were disorderly when they yelled obscenities from the porch at another Fifth Street resident, Jim Singler.
According to testimony, Benson was on his front porch bagging garbage when Singler pulled his truck from his driveway to a parking spot on Fifth Street.
Singler claimed when he left the truck, both Vallade and Benson screamed obscenities at him, stating that he was parked illegally.
Benson told the court he wasn’t talking to Singler and was actually speaking through the front door of the home to Vallade. Singler said the comments were directed at him.
Also, Benson testified that later that night, while out shoveling snow, Singler attempted to back over him with his truck.
Magistrate Miller, again, citing case law for the reason for his ruling, found Vallade and Benson guilty of disorderly conduct and ordered each to pay $50 fines and costs.
“I just can’t trust anyone anymore,” said Vallade. “This has really changed me.”
According to Vallade, she has already spent more than $1,500 in attorney fees, and soon, she said she will erect vinyl fencing around her property, which will cost in the neighborhood of $3,000.