Erie Police Officer Charged with Assault
Erie Police announced Tuesday an officer has been charged for assaulting a suspect while on duty.
Justin Griffith, 35, faces a misdemeanor charge of simple assault.
The incident happened as police responded to a call for a domestic involving weapons October 10th, around 11:45 p.m. in the 2000 block of Wallace Street.
Police say that is where they took Patrick Gehrlein into custody in an upstairs apartment.
Gehrlein was handcuffed and positioned face down when he rolled onto his side, stated he had AIDS and started spitting at officers, according to the criminal complaint.
Two officers reportedly placed a foot on Gehrlein - one between the shoulder blades and another on the back of his head - to keep him flat and prevent his spit from projecting.
The criminal complaint says that's when officer Griffith swore at the suspect, walked up to Gehrlein and kicked him in the face "like he was kicking a ball."
Investigators say the three police officers who witnessed the assault, came forward, "This case demonstrates that our officers are willing to make the hard decisions when they have to, and as an administration we have to be willing to step up and support them," said Erie Police Chief Don Dacus. "And I commend them for bringing the information forward. They were the only witnesses to the incident so I think it speaks volumes as far as the integrity of the police department, and the community should be reassured they did the right thing and we're going to handle it appropriately," Chief Dacus continued.
Medical records show Gehrlein suffered multiple facial fractures, according to the criminal complaint.
The officer is an eight-year veteran of the Erie Police force.
Chief Dacus says this incident is not representative of the entire police force, "The police officers that we have working here, they're not all bad guys, not all of them. We do have issues that come up every once in a while, but the fact of the matter is our officers are doing what's right, they're operating within the guidelines and the policies that we put into place," said Chief Dacus.
The last time an Erie police officer was charged with an assault while on the job, was more than 15 years ago. That officer was convicted, and eventually quit the force.
The Erie police department conducted both a criminal investigation, as well as an internal investigation.
They then met with Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri, who recommended the charge of simple assault, "We've shown a commitment to not only holding officers accountable administratively, but we'll hold them accountable criminally as well. And this case just demonstrates when it rises to that level, and we have evidence to support it, we'll make the hard decisions when we have to," Chief Dacus said.
Griffith's preliminary hearing is scheduled for November 18th at 3 p.m. in front of District Judge Paul Bizzarro.
If he is convicted, Chief Dacus says he will very likely be fired from the force.
Watch Tuesday's news conference: