The police officer who got into a loud argument with his girlfriend on a public street should not be fired from the force, Hearing Officer Jeffrey Selchick has recommended.
Officer Eric Peters faced dismissal on charges of hitting his girlfriend, Bonnie Crandall, during the fight. But in a 59-page report, Selchick said there was no proof that Peters ever struck his girlfriend.
Selchick sent in his report Monday. On Tuesday, Mayor Gary McCarthy said he did not plan to fight Selchick’s ruling.
“I’m not going to appeal,” he said. “There is an appeal process, but the likelihood of any municipality prevailing — it’s stacked against us. I’m not looking to spend time or money in a frivolous manner.”
Eric Peters was suspended with pay in March 2011 after being arrested on domestic abuse charges. He was acquitted on the criminal charges in January after a trial in which his girlfriend testified for him and denied ever being struck.
Two women who were parked nearby said they saw Peters hit his girlfriend in a parked truck on Park Place.
But Selchick said the witnesses could not possibly have seen any blows because the truck’s windows were tinted and the bucket seat headrests were taller than Peters and his girlfriend.
The witnesses said they heard the woman scream and saw her put up her hands as if she was defending herself, then saw her body jerk back and forth. They said she tried to leave the truck and appeared to be pulled back by her hair.
Peters and his girlfriend testified that they were merely gesticulating while arguing.
Selchick wrote that it would have been “very difficult” for the witnesses “to have had a clear view of what was occurring in the truck.
“Adding to their difficulty in obtaining a clear view, of course, was the fact that their observations were made in the evening hours,” he wrote.
Selchick also visited the location to see how far apart the two cars were on that night and said he felt that the distance was too far to see anything clearly. In addition, he concluded that Peters’ girlfriend was not “the type of person” who would allow someone to hit her, not fight back and then cover up the assault.
Selchick noted that the girlfriend testified that if Peters ever hit her, “he would be picking up his teeth.”
Peters’ attorney, Kevin Luibrand, said Peters has been offered jobs at other police departments but wanted to clear his name here instead.
“Eric is one of the good guys,” Luibrand said. “He wanted to clear up his reputation. Once this is out, nowadays, with the Internet, it’s out there forever. He couldn’t leave it hanging there.”
Selchick said Peters could have behaved better during the incident. Having a loud and public argument is not “appropriate public behavior” for a police officer, Selchick wrote.
He also criticized the way Peters used his “command voice” to tell bystanders that the incident was none of their business. He intimidated a Union College student who retreated into his apartment after coming out to see why a woman was screaming and crying.
Selchick said Peters should have spoken to the student more politely.
Peters lost his free apartment, provided by Union College, after the incident. Police brass said it was inappropriate for a police officer to accept a free apartment.
That loss, Selchick said, “could reasonably be considered sufficient punishment for [Peters’] lack of good judgment in his public behavior.”
Peters went to the police station after the incident and asked whether police had been sent to his street in response to a disturbance. Witnesses there said he was relieved to hear that a 911 call had been cancelled, but Peters testified that he wasn’t trying to avoid criminal charges. He said he was afraid of losing his free apartment. Selchick said he found that believable.
Police initially suspected Peters of domestic abuse partly because his girlfriend had a bloody nose, but a friend testified that she accidentally head-butted a woman while dancing earlier, causing the nosebleed.
Several co-workers of the girlfriend also testified that they saw the head-bump and helped the woman deal with a badly bleeding nose.
Selchick said that “places an entirely innocent context” to the injury.
“In sum, the Hearing Officer finds that there is a lack of substantial evidence in the record to support the central allegations,” Selchick wrote, adding, “the charges therefore are unsubstantiated and must be dismissed.”