O.C. man held for court on charges related to standoff

An Oil City man accused of engaging in a standoff with police last week was held for court Wednesday.

Joseph Whitten, 23, appeared before district judge Matthew Kirtland for the preliminary hearing in Venango County Central Court.

Assistant district attorney Brenda Servidio called Whitten’s girlfriend to the stand as the first witness at the hearing.

The woman said she and Whitten got into an argument over money in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, at her residence on Spruce Street after going out for drinks at a local bar.

She said Whitten became visibly angry during the fight and loaded a .270-caliber rifle while threatening suicide, but he would unload the weapon shortly afterward, she said.

Over the course of the altercation, the girlfriend said Whitten told her to leave and she was planning to do so for the night, while leaving her young child in bed upstairs.

But the woman said she saw Whitten use a four-way wrench to loosen the lugnuts on the back tires of her vehicle, claiming they were his tires.

The girl said her mother, who also lived at the home, eventually called police.

Oil City police officer Larry Drake said he was dispatched to the scene shortly after 2:30 a.m. June 12.

Drake said that when he arrived another man living in the home asked officers if he could go inside to secure their dogs before police went inside to try to talk to Whitten.

While the man was still inside, Drake said Whitten came outside for a brief moment.

Drake said he and other officers gave Whitten verbal commands to get on the ground with their guns drawn, but Whitten quickly turned and ran back inside.

Drake said the man who went in to secure the dogs came back outside and told police Whitten was loading the gun again.

Minutes before police entered the home, Drake said officers became aware of Facebook messages sent from Whitten to his girlfriend.

The girlfriend testified that the messages were regarding why police were still outside the home.

Police decided to enter the home at 4:07 a.m. and were able to recover the young child who was sleeping upstairs, but Whitten wasn’t found.

Drake said two firearms were recovered from the home by police.

Drake said Whitten and his father came to the Oil City police station just before 5:30 a.m. that morning to try to recover the firearms, but it was at that time Whitten was taken into custody.

Whitten’s defense attorney, John Lackatos, argued there was no actual danger to warrant charges of recklessly endangering another person and there was no evidence to support a disorderly conduct charge.

But Kirtland ruled that Whitten would be held for court on two misdemeanor counts of recklessly endangering another person as well as a misdemeanor count of flight to avoid apprehension. A misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct was dismissed by Kirtland.

Prior to the start of the hearing, a misdemeanor count of endangering welfare of children was withdrawn by the prosecution, and the misdemeanor count of flight to avoid apprehension was added against Whitten.

Whitten remains free on $20,000 unsecured bail.