Lancaster city police Sgt. Raymond Corll grew nervous of civil litigation after he was informed the district attorney’s office would withdraw charges in a March 2014 arrest he made, according to testimony Tuesday in his perjury trial.
It was the second day of the trial to determine whether Corll, 55, lied under oath in the prosecution of city resident Steve Widdowson for public drunkenness.
Assistant district attorney Jennifer Ponessa testified Tuesday that by the time she got the case, Widdowson had already been found guilty of the summary offense after Corll testified that Widdowson and friend Tami Jones were staggering the width of the sidewalk and nearly stepped into the street along the 100 block of North Queen Street on March 8, 2014.
A Lancaster police sergeant lied under oath during the prosecution of a city man for public …
Lancaster Safety Coalition video showing the pair walking normally was presented on appeal, Ponessa said.
Corll argued the tape did not show the moments when Widdowson, 42, and Jones, 38, were staggering, Ponessa said.
“As soon as they walk out of frame they start staggering? It just didn’t make any sense,” she said under cross examination.
“There were multiple snippets showing them walking straight,” she said. “There are like six different frames.”
After consulting with assistant district attorney Trista Boyd and district attorney Craig Stedman, Ponessa said she withdrew the charge against Widdowson.
Ponessa testified Corll asked her if this would open him up to a civil suit. She said she told him that wasn’t her department.
Punch not warranted
Lancaster city police officer William Hamby testified that he was uncomfortable helping Corll arrest Widdowson after witnessing him punch Widdowson in the face.
He said the punch was not warranted.
Hamby’s partner, Officer Jay Hatfield, was just as shocked.
“Oh (expletive). Why did that just happen?” Hatfield recalled thinking of the punch as he sat in the witness stand Tuesday.
Neither officer knew why Corll was arresting Widdowson and both said the amount of force the sergeant used was not necessary.
Hamby told the jury he just wanted to be anywhere but the corner of North Queen and East Chestnut streets early that morning.
After seeing a police SUV abruptly stop and Corll quickly jump out of the vehicle, as if he was going to “stop someone immediately,” Hamby said he contacted headquarters from his own squad car and approached the scene, unsure of what was taking place.
“I thought there was an emergency,” he testified Tuesday morning.
Hatfield, who was riding in the passenger seat of Hamby’s vehicle, was already out of the car and approaching Corll and Widdowson. Corll had Widdowson by the wrist and Widdowson was moving back as he was trying to figure out what was going on, Hatfield testified.
“I wouldn’t call it resisting arrest,” Hatfield said. “In my opinion, he didn’t understand why he was under arrest.”
As Hamby approached the scene, he said he saw Widdowson on the ground.
“He turned his head to look and that’s when Sgt. Corll punched him in the face,” Hamby testified.
Hamby didn’t recall Widdowson fighting, resisting arrest, staggering or slurring speech when he arrived at the scene.
He said his heart dropped and he “wanted to be anywhere but there” as he helped cuff Widdowson.
‘That went south quick’
Corll’s partner, Lt. James Carpenter, testified that he missed the punch altogether, saying he was busy parking the police-issued Chevy Tahoe during an incident he had already deemed as not a “high risk, intense thing.”
He and Corll had been staring at Widdowson and Jones as they were shifting by about 2 feet on each side as they walked down North Queen Street, Carpenter said.
After someone he believed to be Widdowson yelled something at their police vehicle, Carpenter said he stopped the SUV so he could have a conversation with him.
Since 2005, there have been at least 31 suits settled across the county – 21 involving Lancaster city police and another 10 involving police elsewhere in the county. Out-of-court settlements ranged from $1,500 to $900,000
By the time Carpenter parked the vehicle and made his way over to the sidewalk, Widdowson was sitting on the ground with Corll behind him, he said.
“My impression when I saw the scene was: That went south quick,” he said.
What exactly was yelled has been a unclear point throughout the trial.
Widdowson testified he was “offended” that a police SUV was creeping down the street following him and Jones.
After a few minutes of being tailed, Widdowson said he asked the vehicle’s operator, “What have we done wrong?”
Corll’s defense has repeatedly questioned whether it was a more vulgar statement, a claim that Jones and Widdowson have both denied in their respective testimonies.
Carpenter said he knew the comment was the reason why he stopped the vehicle, but is unclear what was actually said.
“If nothing would have been yelled” we would have been happy to keep going around the corner, Carpenter said.
Corll is expected to testify Wednesday as the trial continues in Courtroom 8 at the Lancaster County Court House with President Judge Dennis E. Reinaker presiding.
Corll has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 2, 2015.