Erie Police Officer Heading to Trial on Assault Charge
The assault case against an Erie police officer accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect is now headed for trial. After a preliminary hearing today, a district judge bound the case against 35-year Justin Griffith over to a full trial.
The assault case against an Erie police officer accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect, is now headed for trial.
After a preliminary hearing Tuesday, a district judge bound the case against 35-year Justin Griffith over to a full trial.
Griffith, an 8-year veteran of the force, is charged with simple assault stemming from an incident on Wallace Street in Erie in October.
Several Erie police officers were attempting to arrest a man in the midst of a domestic dispute, when the handcuffed suspect, identified as Patrick Gehrlein, allegedly spit at officers, and claimed he had AIDS.
Fellow officers reported that's when Griffith kicked Gehrlein in the face. Officers took him to the hospital for treatment of multiple facial fractures.
Gehrlein testified Tuesday, he had drank a gallon and a half of wine, and was drunk and unruly the night of the incident.
He said his mouth was bleeding from officers taking him to the ground to arrest him. So, he said he rolled over and spit saliva and blood at the officers, "I said I was HIV positive and began to spit on the officers," Gehrlein testified. Gehrlein said he did it "in retaliation."
Officer Griffith's defense attorney, John Carlson, argues this was not an assault, "Officer Griffith and Erie police officers encountered a suspect who, although was in handcuffs, had rolled up and was attempting to spit blood on the officers while claiming he had the lethal or deadly virus known as AIDS," said Carlson. "So he (Griffith) took swift and immediate action. He had a split second to react, he could either act to protect himself and the other officers from this perceived lethal risk, or he could he could do nothing at the risk of being infected, or having one of his fellow officers being infected. He chose to protect himself and the others," Carlson continued.
Lt. Jon Peters was the prosecution's only witness. He investigated the case, and testified Tuesday to what the other officers told him they witnessed at the scene.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Richmond says the evidence proves Griffith went too far, "The facts substantiate that there was a simple assault in this situation, and it wasn't justified in any way," said Richmond. "I think the evidence here was strong, and established the crime that he's charged with," Richmond continued.
Carlson says he's planning on a jury hearing his client's case, "No plea deals, we look forward to our day in court. His action were justified and within the boundaries of his duties, " said Carlson. "We ask these officers time and time again to place their lives at risk, going into places where they have no idea what they're going to encounter. And here, they encountered someone claiming to have AIDS, trying to spit on them, in an effort to infect them," Carlson continued.
Officer Griffith's status is now changed from paid to unpaid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the trial.