Surveillance Footage Helps Police Make Arrest in After-Bar Attack
By Rick Hiduk
Footage from security cameras posted at the Saring Company, a heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration business in Towanda, helped Towanda Borough Police bring charges against Summer Ann Benjamin, of Towanda, for brutally attacking a patron of Finlan’s Tavern on Main Street at closing time on July 2.
According to police reports, Benjamin, 30, confronted Jennifer Smith inside the bar and accused her of dancing with a man two weeks prior with whom Benjamin shares a daughter.
“Everyone dances with each other, and I’m not from around here,” Smith told Benjamin, according to the statement she filed with police when she pursued charges later that morning.
Several patrolmen and a canine unit responded to a call about a fight at the corner of Main and State Streets, but the altercation had ended by the time they arrived. Police interviewed Benjamin, who was still at the scene with a man whom she identified as her boss. At that time, she reportedly denied knowing anything about a fight. Another man nearby told police that he had heard but had not seen the fight, but he did observe a woman who appeared to be injured leaving the scene as police arrived.
Police found a large chunk of what appeared to be a woman’s hair in the roadway, which Benjamin denied knowing anything about when she was again questioned by the officers. With no definitive witnesses and no apparent victim at the site, Towanda police concluded their investigation and returned to their previous posts.
At about 9 a.m., Bradford County Dispatch contacted police and asked them to call Smith, who wanted to press charges against Benjamin for attacking her. By this time, Smith had been to the emergency room at Towanda Memorial Hospital, where she was treated for a fractured or dislocated jaw and possible concussion. She received medication and was asked to follow up with her family doctor.
Smith told police that she walked away as the patrol cars arrived on the scene because she was scared and embarrassed. Smith related that she was attacked from behind, blacked out after pleading with Benjamin to stop beating her, and woke up as other people from the bar were pulling Benjamin away from her. Smith indicated to police that her clothing was soiled from the experience and she wanted to change them before talking with the patrolmen. By the time she got home, she indicated that she just wanted to lie down and woke up in considerable pain.
When the reporting officer, Josh Lake, reviewed surveillance footage provided to him by the management of Sarings, he saw on the video a situation that matched Smith’s account of the assault almost much word-for-word. At 2:01 a.m., Benjamin was seen exiting the bar with several friends and her boss, all of who initially walked south on Main Street. Smith could be seen leaving Finlan’s at 2:02 a.m. with a man who offered to drive her home as per her earlier verbal confrontation with Benjamin inside the bar. The couple walked north on Main Street, then east onto State Street.
As soon as they turned the corner onto State Street, Lake noted that Benjamin rapidly moved toward Smith, attacked her, and pushed her out of camera view. About a minute later, the two came back into view, and Benjamin was observed holding Smith by the hair, punching her in the face, and pushing her to the ground. A gathering crowd attempted to stop the fight, but Benjamin was seen to break free from them and kicked Smith in the left side of the face and head as she was trying to get up. The two were again separated, and two men positioned themselves in front of Smith. Benjamin reportedly continued to try to confront Smith, even as police were observed arriving at the scene at 2:05 a.m. Smith could be seen walking past Lake’s patrol car and disappearing out of view as he and his partner parked the vehicle.
Lake spoke with district attorney Daniel Barrett at the Bradford County Courthouse and asked him to file simple and aggravated assault charges, as well as harassment charges against Benjamin, who was found to be on federal probation. Benjamin happened to be at the courthouse with a baby, and Lake asked her to come to the nearby police station, which she did.
After reading Benjamin her Miranda Rights, she related a different version of the story, which she assured the officer that her friends would corroborate. Benjamin insisted that Smith started the argument in the bar by calling her an obscene name and that Smith jumped her outside the bar as they left. Benjamin also indicated to Lake that Smith was likely to say anything that would cause Benjamin trouble, as there is a custody issue between Benjamin and the baby’s father.
Lake asked Benjamin several times to remain truthful with him, which she asserted that she was. “I’m not lying. You can ask anyone,” she insisted. When Lake advised her that he had witnessed most of the altercation on video surveillance tape, Benjamin reportedly requested an opportunity to view the footage. “This is going to violate my parole,” she told Lake. “If you already knew what happened, why did you want to talk to me?” The officer related that he wanted to give her an opportunity to explain her side of the story and expressed disappointment that she had not done so honestly. After expressing herself in a defiant yet nonviolent manner, Benjamin reportedly left the police station. She now faces an Aug. 17 preliminary hearing.