According to township officials, the dispute began between the two men during a zoning board hearing on March 18, 2003, when Lawson requested a variance to convert his garage into a den and then add a three-car garage. The board granted Lawson the variance to convert the garage on April 1, 2003, but denied his request to add the three-car garage.
Schuylkill Township police have responded to both the Lawson and Costantini residences on numerous occasions since April 17, 2003, for reports of trespassing, harassment, theft of property, criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
Both parties appeared before District Justice Ted Michaels on July 31, 2003, as Lawson faced charges of harassment, stalking, and disorderly conduct stemming from an incident with Costantini on June 9.
Prior to the preliminary hearing, it appeared the attorneys in both sides had reached an agreement to continue the hearing. Michaels, on the request of both attorneys, offered to mediate a truce between the neighbors; however, following an outburst by Mrs. Costantini, Michaels ordered the hearing.
Costantini testified that Lawson began following him from his residence around 11:25 a.m. June 9. Costantini, who stated he was on his way to NAPA Auto Parts in Phoenixville, said he turned into the Valley Forge Post Office and Lawson continued to follow him. He then testified he pulled into the NAPA parking lot as Lawson drove on by.
Costantini testified after he concluded his business in the store, he was confronted by Lawson near his car. He told the court Lawson walked up to him, leaned over him and said, "Just remember I know where you are at all times and I'm gonna get you." Costantini said Lawson then followed him as he drove home from Phoenixville.
Lawson's attorney, Jim Freeman, during cross-examination, inquired as to why Costantini didn't drive right to the Schuylkill Township police station if he was being harassed. Costantini told Freeman he wanted to call the police from his home.
Freeman had Lawson take the stand, and he provided a different account of the incident. Lawson testified he didn't realize he was following Costantini down Route 23 and upon seeing him pull into the NAPA parking lot, drove away to avoid Costantini. Lawson said he parked in another area, and upon finishing his business at NAPA, waited for Costantini to leave.
Upon driving back down Route 23, Lawson said he passed the G Lodge and noticed Costantini was following him. Lawson stopped at the post office, then went to Super Fresh and to Home Depot that day. Lawson provided the court with receipts for all of his purchases to justify his whereabouts that afternoon.
After hearing all of the testimony, District Justice Ted Michaels said there was enough prima facie evidence to hold the charges over for trial. It is unknown whether Lawson was found guilty or the charges were withdrawn at a later hearing.
On Oct. 23, 2003, the Lawsons and Costantinis returned to Phoenixville District Court; this time it was Costantini facing a variety of charges such as criminal trespass, harassment, stalking, and disorderly conduct. The Lawsons, who rigged the outside of their home with a high-tech, home surveillance system, including several video cameras, brought their equipment with them for this hearing.
Lawson testified he told Costantini on Sept. 4 to never come onto his property ever again. On that same date, Lawson said he left his residence at 1 p.m. to run some errands. A videotape shown in court, which displayed four different angles, revealed Costantini walking on the Lawson property at 1:27 p.m. and moving survey flags.
Costantini's attorney, Sam Stretton, showed the court several photos that he claimed revealed Lawson pulling up flags. Lawson reiterated that he was putting the flags into the ground, and that he should know his boundary line after replacing the flags on three separate occasions.
A relative of the Lawsons told the court she was visiting on Sept. 6, 2003, when she noticed Costantini was walking along the property line. She testified she was looking out the window when she saw Costantini taking pictures. She said at first it looked like Costantini was along the line, however, he stood behind the Lawson's Mazda, which was parked on their property.
After hearing all of the testimony and viewing the videotapes, District Justice Ted Michaels said there was enough prima facia evidence to hold the charges over for trial. It is unknown whether Costantini was found guilty or the charges were withdrawn at a later hearing.
Following the hearing in October, Freeman said, "This is a case of a modern day 'Hatfields and McCoys.'"