Alleged shooter has criminal past
HAZLETON - The Hazleton man who allegedly shot a Coal Township man in the leg Monday was hiding suspected crack cocaine, heroin and pills in his shoe and buttocks when police strip-searched him after a prior arrest in July, police said.
Court records show Joseph Babbitt III has an extensive criminal history that dates to 2005.
Meanwhile, police have not said anything more about why the Coal Township man was shot. They have identified him only as a witness to a crime and have not released his name.
Emergency workers tended to his wound on Monday, and Hazleton Police Chief Frank DeAndrea said that day it appeared the bullet passed "cleanly through" about 2 inches above the knee, and that the injury is non life-threatening.
Babbitt is accused of shooting the victim while Babbitt was inside the man's black Dodge Durango in a restaurant parking lot on South Church Street, only a few blocks from Hazleton's police station. After pulling the trigger, police said, Babbitt began to run from the victim, who chased him in his vehicle. That chase ended after Babbitt allegedly got into a red Chevrolet and drove a few blocks away. But before Babbitt got away, the victim allegedly rammed his Durango into Babbitt's vehicle, DeAndrea said.
Officers took Babbitt into custody near his vehicle, which had damage to the back end and front passenger side.
A woman with Babbitt was initially taken into custody by police, transported by ambulance to Hazleton General Hospital for an unknown medical issue and then released from police custody. Court papers state she was found with a hypodermic syringe and 10 packets of suspected heroin, which she claimed were Babbitt's.
Police found an empty .25-caliber handgun that was believed to have been used in the crime. The gun had an altered serial number, and Babbitt was not permitted to have one due to prior drug conviction.
Babbitt admitted to intentionally shooting the man and that the gun was his.
Babbitt was charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault and two misdemeanor counts of simple assault. He was also charged with felony counts of possession of a firearm prohibited and possession of a firearm with an altered manufacturer number, misdemeanor counts of recklessly endangering another person and possession of a controlled substance and a summary count of disorderly conduct, after the Monday shooting. He was arraigned and jailed on $75,000 bail. He awaits a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Joseph Zola, tentatively scheduled for March 6 at 10:30 a.m.
Babbitt has been arrested by Hazleton police in the past. Most recently before Monday, he faced drug charges after police took him into custody July 11 during a traffic stop.
Officers said they found a scale, 46 grams of cocaine, .7 grams of marijuana, a cigar blunt and a knife with burn marks on the blade, which is synonymous with drug use, in the vehicle Babbitt was inside, according to court papers.
Babbitt was strip-searched at the police station and told police he had marijuana and packets of crack cocaine in his shoe, the affidavit states. While one officer searched Babbitt's shoes, another found a large plastic bag in Babbitt's buttocks, according to police.
Babbitt grabbed the bag and put it in his mouth as officers took him to the ground in an effort to retrieve it, police said. Officers applied the Heimlich maneuver on Babbitt, who then grabbed the bag from his mouth and ripped it open, exposing two officers to a cloud of cocaine.
Police said they also removed a bag containing 21 pills and six suspected heroin packets from Babbitt's buttocks.
Officers were taken to Hazleton General Hospital for decontamination after that encounter with Babbitt.
Babbitt faces two counts each of manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. He was also charged with one count each of resisting arrest and tampering with evidence and was scheduled for a formal arraignment in Luzerne County Court in that case in January, but there was no update on his docket for that court appearance.
Court papers state he previously lived in Hazleton, White Haven and East Stroudsburg.
According to a court dockets, Babbitt was also charged in the following cases:
- In April 2007, he was sentenced to four to 12 months confinement after pleading guilty to simple assault after an offense in Pittston Township handled by state police at Wyoming after an August 2005 incident.
- In February 2006, a traffic stop by Hazleton police resulted in Babbitt being charged with driving under the influence of a controlled substance. He pleaded guilty in April 2007 and was sentenced to 72 hours to six months confinement.
- In March 2006, Hazleton police charged him with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and driving without a license, but those charges were withdrawn because the victim in the case refused to cooperate, court papers state.
- In July 2010, Babbitt was sentenced to 30 days to 12 months confinement after pleading guilty to manufacture, delivery or possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance and driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
Babbitt is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to a count of possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest filed against him by Hazleton police after a July 2010 offense. He entered those pleas in October 2011.
Babbitt is also awaiting trial in a case filed against him by West Hazleton police. Borough officers charged him with theft and receiving stolen property after an April offense involving a stolen gun, West Hazleton Police Chief Brian Buglio said. The gun was later recovered in Butler Township, he said.