A Schenectady City Court jury Friday evening acquitted suspended city police Officer Eric Peters of both charges against him in a case where he was accused of hitting his fiancée and preventing her from getting out of a truck.
The verdict was read shortly after 5 p.m. with Peters’ family members and fiancée present. Afterward, Peters hugged each of them.
His fiancée, Bonnie Crandall, the woman prosecutors said Peters hit, has stood by Peters throughout, saying that he never assaulted her.
“The truth is out,” Crandall told The Daily Gazette afterward. “He didn’t hit me. He’s the best man I know.”
Also present for the verdict were Peters’ parents and his brother, fellow city police officer Joseph Peters IV.
Eric Peters declined to comment afterward. His attorney Kevin Luibrand, though, said Peters was relieved.
Luibrand also said the case against Peters illustrates how the department operates now — suspending officers, filing charges and assuming officers are guilty.
“I think that the city has gone from not doing anything to its police officers to now, anything that happens, they’re now automatically guilty,” Luibrand said. “They’ve automatically done something wrong.”
Based on the allegations against Peters, the city is seeking his termination. The ninth, and what is expected to be the final, day of that hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
How the verdict might affect the department’s internal hearing was unclear Friday evening. Mayor Gary McCarthy, when told of the verdict Friday evening, said he wouldn’t know how the hearing will work until he got to speak with the police command staff.
“We trust the system to work,” McCarthy said. “I’m sure the jurors took everything into consideration in their deliberations.”
Luibrand, who is also representing Peters in the departmental hearing, said Peters is fighting that case right to the end, just as he did in the criminal case.
Peters is a 13-year veteran of the department who has been injured on the job. His work saving a man and his daughter from a burning Yale Street home in 2003 earned him an exceptional duty award at a 2005 ceremony.
He has been suspended since his March 2011 arrest, although he is being paid.
Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham later noted the difficulty in prosecuting a case where the alleged victim denies anything criminal happened.
“We felt there was sufficient evidence of a crime to prosecute that crime, even without the victim,” Tremante-Pelham said.
She noted that City Court Judge Mark Blanchfield allowed the case to go to trial, finding enough there to allow a jury to decide.
Tremante-Pelham also said the case was handled the same way as any other domestic violence case.
The main allegations, that Peters repeatedly struck Crandall inside her truck on Park Place on St. Patrick’s Day night 2011, came from two women, a Union graduate student and a co-worker.
They testified that they witnessed Peters hit Crandall after they got into their own car on Park Place for an evening out.
The defense, though, contended they didn’t see what they thought they saw, taking pains to pin down their location and their view relative to Peters’ truck and the lighting conditions that evening.
The women testified there was plenty of light from streetlights.
The three-man, three-woman jury deliberated about two hours before reaching a verdict. The two charges against Peters were attempted assault and unlawful imprisonment.
The jury asked for the original call to authorities from the women to be played back. They also apparently focused on the lighting issue, asking the judge if they could visit Park Place at night. Blanchfield denied that request.
Prosecutors also had another witness on the street that night, another student. That student testified he heard Crandall yelling that Peters was beating her.
A district attorney’s investigator testified she saw scratches on the back of Crandall’s neck, which Crandall refused to have photographed.
But both Crandall and Peters testified that it was a big argument, nothing more.
Peters took the stand Friday morning and echoed much of the testimony of his fiancée. He and Crandall both said the argument was prompted by a nose injury she suffered dancing earlier in the night and her refusal to go to the hospital hours later at Peters’ suggestion.
Peters denied ever hitting Crandall. Under cross-examination by Tremante-Pelham, Peters denied striking her and told the prosecutor that he didn’t appreciate her assertion that he had done so.
Peters also suggested the entire prosecution of him had roots in what he believed was a district attorney’s office that doesn’t like his family. He is a fourth-generation city police officer. His grandfather and great-grandfather were police chiefs.
There also was testimony that Peters went to the city police station shortly after the incident, asking dispatchers if there was a call to Park Place.
He said he did so because, as the argument made its way to their door, another man appeared about to intervene. He loudly told him to mind his own business.
He worried that man might have called police and exaggerated the encounter. His fiancée was still dabbing blood from her nose from the injury earlier in the night, he said. He also had blood on his shirt from helping her. Others also testified to the earlier injury.