Prosecutors weigh refiling charges in Wharton dorm brawl

University of Pennsylvania Campus, Philadelphia, PA, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

Prosecutors are considering refiling felony charges against two Wharton School students accused of assaulting another student in his dorm April 8, according to a prosecutor and a defense attorney involved in the case.

At a preliminary hearing Aug. 17, Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons dismissed felony counts of aggravated assault, burglary, and criminal trespassing against Dante Benitez and Ivan Loginov, both 19. She instead held them for a Sept. 18 trial on misdemeanor counts of conspiracy, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Simmons didn’t explain her decision from the bench.

The tossing of the most serious charges did not sit well with the victim, Max Arias, his family, or the District Attorney’s Office. After the hearing, Jan McDermott, chief of the D.A.’s Southwest Bureau, told the Inquirer and Daily News the office would consider refiling the felony charges.

“The victim testified that he suffered what I believe rises to serious bodily injury,” McDermott said last month.

Prosecutors have until Sept. 17 to decide whether they will refile charges.

James Funt, an attorney for Benitez, said that he had been told new charges could be filed but that prosecutors and the defense team were in discussions about the next step. “The District Attorney’s Office has been carefully considering all of the facts that have come to light,” Funt said Thursday.

Cameron Kline, spokesman for the D.A.’s Office, has declined to comment on the case.

Arias, 19, a Wharton sophomore from Ardmore, said he was “ruthlessly attacked” and felt “completely powerless” when the felony counts were dismissed.

“I know the legal definition of aggravated assault — and a brain injury, a broken nose, and fractured wrist is not simple assault,” he said in an interview. “Those injuries seriously impacted my life.”

A late-night party 

An affidavit of probable cause filed by a University of Pennsylvania police detective gave the following account:

Benitez, Loginov, and Arias were at a party on Chancellor Street, where Arias met a young woman, also a Penn student. The woman had known Benitez in high school and had stayed friendly with him at Penn.

At the party, she and Arias talked, flirted, and eventually began kissing. Arias asked whether she wanted to go back to his room in the New York Alumni Dorm on Spruce Street. She agreed. They were sitting on his bed around 3 a.m. when Benitez and Loginov knocked on the door and then barged in.

“I told you not to go home with her,” Benitez allegedly said. When Arias protested that he didn’t know what Benitez was talking about, Loginov told him to shut up and punched him in the face, the document says. The fracas moved from the fourth-floor dorm room to the third-floor stairwell, where, a dorm resident told police, she saw Arias being held in a chokehold by one of two males who were around him.

“Max is already bleeding in the face, his face looked beat-up,” the witness allegedly told police. “One of the males flings [Arias] down the stairwell, where he hit his head pretty hard on the landing and the wall. He was thrown down 10 to 12 steps.”

Arias suffered a broken nose, a broken right hand and wrist, a swollen eye, contusions to the temple, and a possible concussion.

‘They just let things get out of hand’

The defendants and their attorneys have contended the pair were trying to rescue the woman, who they said was vulnerable after drinking too much at the party. They contended that when they entered the room, they saw Arias, without his shirt, lying on top of her in bed, according to statements they provided to their attorneys.

Arias, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, testified at the preliminary hearing that he had had two beers that night and had no reason to think the woman was intoxicated. He said that when the defendants entered his room, the lights were out, but he and the woman were fully clothed, seated on the bed, and talking about studying abroad. He told the court that during the fight, the woman told the intruders: ” ‘Please stop, please stop! I wanted to be here!’ ”

“She was giving off no signs whatsoever of a person who was not in complete control of herself,” Arias told the Inquirer and Daily News. “I did not have drinks with her that night, and I did not see her drinking.”

The affidavit from Penn Detective Richard Bova says the woman told police that, at one point at the party, Benitez had approached Arias and told him “not to touch [the woman] because she was drunk.” But the detective’s statement doesn’t indicate whether she had been drinking. It says: “[She] is sorry this incident happened and thinks that they went there with good intentions and they just let things get out of hand.”

Benitez’s legal team provided the Inquirer and Daily News with copies of text messages the attorneys say the woman sent to Benitez hours after the fight, suggesting she had needed help:

“hi i’m so sorry about yesterday clearly i really f-ked up and started a ton of drama and i’m so so sorry. thank you for coming to get me i was way to drunk to be there. i am so sorry that’s how things went down and i should have done more to stop it and get everyone out. thank you for getting me though. love you dante. are you and ivan okay?”

Arias’ attorney, Timothy Creech, said the text message contradicted what the woman told police about her state of mind that night.

“When this happened, it was concluded that these attackers had no justification for what they did. They were suspended from school,” Creech said in an interview last week. “And Max has never been accused of any wrongdoing by anyone except those who are accused of beating him up in such an egregious manner.”

Benitez, of Miami, and Loginov, a citizen of Russia, have been suspended from campus until the conclusion of a university investigation, their attorneys said.

Refiling felony charges won’t change the facts of the case, said Funt, the attorney for Benitez. He said his client and Loginov made a “blink-of-an-eye” decision to try to get the woman out of the room.

“Dante Benitez and Ivan Loginov took steps to prevent what they believed was going to be an assault on a friend who was too intoxicated to defend herself,” he said, adding that his client also suffered a concussion.

Loginov’s attorney, Brian McMonagle, said after the August hearing: “It’s tragic how things unfolded. But their intentions were pure, their intentions were good.”

Meanwhile, Arias questions why the defendants didn’t call Penn Police or try to talk to him if they were concerned about their female friend. “It’s just hard to believe the narrative that they are presenting,” he said.

Arias said he was relieved they were no longer on campus. “Never in my life have I felt so at the complete mercy of other people,” he said. “I was completely defenseless. That was a terrible feeling.”