Cornwall Borough councilman convicted of felony assault against neighbor
CORNWALL BOROUGH, Lebanon County — A jury found Cornwall Borough Concilman Steve Levengood guilty of felony aggravated assault Wednesday afternoon after deliberating for less than an hour, according to court documents and a report in the Lebanon Daily News.
Levengood was caught on video punching his neighbor, Darnell Pemberton, causing Pemberton’s head to strike the driveway.
Penberton suffered what doctors termed a “traumatic brain injury,” and had to re-learn how to walk and talk after the incident. He still suffers from migraines, which eventually cost him his job at an AT&T store.
Levengood will be sentenced at a hearing tentatively set for August 2. The standard range for Levengood’s minimum sentence is 36-54 months, according to Lebanon County Senior District Attorney Pier Hess.
The incident that landed both parties in court was the culmination of a long feud between the two neighbors. According to testimony, the dispute stemmed from the Pemberton’s use of a parking space and ducks the Pemberton’s were raising on their property, while the Pemberton’s complained to police about the Levengood’s barking dog and lights he placed at his home around Halloween.
Pemberton put up a fence. Levengood installed “Private Property” signs that directly faced Pemberton’s property.
According to the criminal complaint and the Daily News report of the trial, on June 27, 2016, the Levengoods made a much higher “Private Property” sign that rose above the fence and faced the Pembertons. About 9:30 that night, Pemberton installed a post with plans to place his own sign directly across from it, but he stopped when the Levengoods shined a flashlight his direction. Levengood said that Pemberton threatened to “kick his ass” and directed obscenities toward the Levengoods, but Pemberton denies making those remarks.
Footage from Pemberton’s security camera shows Levengood’s flashlight shine two more times, after which Pemberton and Levengood approached each other at their property line.
“That flashlight is less than an inch from my eyes, it’s in my face,” Pemberton recalled at trial.
Although the ensuing 47-second argument is caught on both Pemberton’s security cameras and a cellphone video taken by Levengood’s wife, Tracy Levengood, it is difficult to see what happens over the next 47 seconds due to darkness.
Steven Levengood admitted in testimony that he moved his flashlight from his right hand to his left hand and delivered a punch to Pemberton’s jaw. Pemberton then fell backward onto the ground.
Levengood’s defense attorney said there was no evidence that Levengood had a malicious intent to harm Pemberton. Instead, he was reacting quickly to Pemberton’s motions, including one that Levengood had testified brushed his chest.
“We don’t operate in slow motion,” Nagrini said.
But Hess asserted that Levengood made an “angry, rage-filled punch” as evidenced by the long-simmering feud between the neighbors, Levengood’s aggressive actions in shining the flashlight in Pemberton’s face and yelling at him, and the fact that he switched the flashlight from his right to his left hand to be able to deliver the punch with his right fist.
Court of Common Pleas Judge Samuel A. Kline set monetary bail at $10,000 until sentencing. The Levengoods were directed not to make contact with the Pembertons as a bail condition.
Levengood has continued to serve on Cornwall Borough Council despite the charges against him and even ran for re-election. He failed to secure the Republican nomination in May, finishing last among seven candidates for four available seats.
Levengood’s future status on the borough council is not clear. The Pennsylvania Constitution forbids people convicted of an “infamous crime” from holding office. However, it is only a judge – not the borough council – that has authority to remove an office holder even after conviction of a crime, according to Leslie Suhr of the Pennsylvania Association of Boroughs.