BRATTLEBORO -- A former Vermont State Police trooper sat quietly in the courtroom Tuesday morning and pleaded not guilty, through his attorney, to two counts of simple assault.
Eric Howley, 40, of West Dover, is alleged to have assaulted two men he thought had stolen his $125 canoe while on duty in April. He was released on conditions following his arraignment.
Howley resigned from his position as a trooper at the Brattleboro Barracks on May 16.
The next day, he was charged with two counts of simple assault after investigators said he repeatedly slammed one man against the trunk of his squad car and shoved another to the ground, which cut the back of his head against a rock.
One of the victims said that after Howley assaulted them, he threatened to cause them more harm and that "he would show him what police brutality was all about," and that "he was sick of white trash Vermonters and stupid potheads," according to court documents.
During the arraignment in Windham County Superior Court Criminal Division, Judge John P. Wesley released Howley on conditions, which included he not have any contact with either of the two victims. He smiled as he left the court room.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine said the AG's office is prosecuting the case because State's Attorney Tracy Shriver had worked with Howley on investigating and trying a number of cases.
When asked why there was no mention of any bail requests during the hearing, Levine stated it wasn't necessary.
"Bail is only considered if there's a risk of flight or concern for a defendant's appearance at a future court proceeding," Levine told reporters after the arraignment. "Mr. Howley doesn't pose any of those threats and the conditions of release will serve to protect the two victims."
Levine added that the AG's office won't be filing any charges against either of the victims for the alleged theft or possession of marijuana.
Howley and his attorney, Brian K. Marthage of Bennington, both declined to comment about the case.
According to the affidavit, while on duty in Wilmington on April 8, Howley told another trooper, Genevra Cushman, that he saw two men paddling his stolen canoe along Lake Raponda and asked for her assistance.
Trooper Cushman said she and Howley were in their police cruiser as they watched the two men bring the canoe up from the lake.
She also said she wanted to keep Howley from dealing with the two individuals because "she knows how he is about thieves," the affidavit states.
Both of the victims stated in a interview after the incident that they had gone to the lake with the intent of borrowing a canoe as they had last fall and while paddling across the lake, ate snacks and each smoked a small amount marijuana.
After Howley said he was sure it was his canoe, he got out of his cruiser and ran to confront the two men even after Cushman told him to let her handle the situation.
The two men said they found the canoe unlocked and Howley had one of the victims follow him across the road for questioning, Cushman said.
She also contacted Wilmington Police Sgt. Matt Murano stating the canoe had been found and he was needed on scene.
Howley was raising his voice, asking the man why he didn't have an identification then "pushed (the victim) down, face first, on the trunk of the cruiser," she said.
Cushman stated that although he may have been evasive in answering Howley's questions and smelled of marijuana, he was "not being threatening in nature."
Cushman again contacted Sgt. Murano and stated he needed to get there "now."
When Murano arrived at Lake Raponda he activated his in-car camera and began to interview one of the victims.
After Cushman yelled at him to stop, Howley approached the other alleged thief and, during a verbal exchange, Howley grabbed the victim by his jacket, shook him and pushed him down toward a large rock, Cushman said.
When the victim reached back to touch his head, his hand was covered in blood.
As Murano started to ask Howley what happened, Howley said "he didn't intend to cause (the victim) physical injury, that he wanted him to stop smirking and shut his mouth," the affidavit states.
Howley told Murano he felt like he was being questioned like a criminal and when Murano responded that he was, Howley told him he was done and left. Murano stated he contacted Howley's supervisor, State Police Sgt. Mike Sorenson, as Howley got into his cruiser and drove away.
At the scene both victims declined treatment but a few hours later, the one who suffered a head laceration was taken to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital by a friend. Doctors put a staple in his head, the affidavit states.
This is at least the second incident involving Howley and allegations of police brutality.
In 2005, Howley and several other officers allegedly assaulted a New York man with a flashlight, punched him, used pepper-spray and a Taser on him while he was restrained.
The man filed a civil suit that was eventually settled out of court for $135,000.
Howley wasn't ever charged in the assault.
If he's convicted on the two simple assault charges, Howley could spend up to two years behind bars.
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.