The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 14, 2013

Fireman faces trial in fracas at house auction

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

— MIFFLINBURG — The case of a Mifflinburg firefighter who last month was accused of warning another real-estate bidder “you better hope your house doesn’t burn down” while poking him in the chest will move to Union County Court in August after one of three charges was dropped.

That was District Judge Lori Hackenberg’s decision after a nearly two-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday in which eight witnesses, including Eric Campbell of Bloomsburg, the other bidder, testified about the actions of defendant James Emery, 39, of Mifflinburg.

Charges against Emery were two misdemeanor counts of official oppression and one summary offense of harassment for allegedly verbally and physically intimidating Campbell and Matthew Wagner, of Mifflinburg.

Hackenberg dismissed the second misdemeanor oppression charge, saying after hearing testimony she didn’t find a case for intimidation in the exchange between the two men.

Representing Emery, attorney Mary Kilgus, of Hughesville, questioned witnesses about Emery’s alleged intimidation of Campbell, asking them to describe how it was perceived.

In cross-examining Campbell, he said he was fearful for his safety because of Emery’s stance and tone of voice when Emery told him he was bidding against the fire department for the property. Wagner testified that Emery’s actions toward Campbell were unnerving.

According to the affidavit, Emery, wearing his Mifflinburg Hose Company coat, first told Wagner the men were bidding against the fire company; Wagner replied he was there with Campbell, who was bidding.

Campbell told the court he jumped into bidding when the price climbed to about $110,000. The bidding continued, and ultimately the fire company won the property for about $164,000.

But Campbell said he backed down from bidding when he began to feel threatened by Emery.

After the bidding, Emery approached the two men again and told them they had just cost taxpayers a lot of money by running up the bid. He allegedly then poked Campbell three times in the chest and said, “Don’t be surprised if your house burns down.”

Campbell told Emery to get out of his face, to which Emery allegedly responded, “You better hope your house doesn’t catch fire.” Emery later allegedly asked Campbell where his other rental properties are. He again walked away but repeated that Campbell “better hope your house doesn’t catch fire,” according to court records.

Later, Campbell learned of Emery’s job as a code enforcement inspector for Union County.

The alleged encounter happened April 3 during an auction at the former Mary Johnson estate at 302-304 Market St. in Mifflinburg. Campbell testified he and his business partner wanted the five-bedroom house to add to their rental properties in the region.

The property itself was valued at about $50,000. Campbell said he was ready to bid “into the high $200,000s” for the estate.

Six witnesses testified for the defense. Troy Smith told the court he heard the “hope your house” remark but took it to mean that the high price for the property may hinder the fire department’s response resources.

Linda Schnure, of Mifflinburg, said she didn’t see Emery poke Campbell but rather wave his finger at him, and Carl Reeder, of Mifflinburg, said he felt Campbell was antagonizing the firemen, “he would just look and smile at them” while he bid.

Hackenberg heard the case because District Judge Jeffrey Mensch was called as a commonwealth witness. Mensch said he went to watch the auction, behind his Chestnut Street offices, and saw Emery and Campbell standing close to each other. He later spoke with Campbell, who he said didn’t seem intimidated but “concerned.”

Campbell raised the issue with Mensch, who said if he was concerned for his safety, he should go to the police.