BRATTLEBORO -- A tentative plea deal offered by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to a former Vermont State Police trooper accused of assaulting two men over a stolen canoe was turned down on Monday.
According to court documents, the AG’s Office offered Eric Howley, 40, of Wilmington, the opportunity to plead no contest to two counts of simple assault, resulting in a fine of $1,500 in court costs and $2,000 in court fees.
During Monday’s hearing, according to court documents, Brian Marthage, Howley’s attorney, told Judge David Suntag that Howley did not want to plead no contest because he was concerned about the possibility a civil suit may be filed against him by his two alleged victims.
Howley resigned from the Vermont State Police in May 2012 after he was charged with simple assault for attacking Mark Ellison, 21, of West Wardsboro, and Anton Pike, 21, of Wilmington, in April.
According to court documents, Howley confronted the two men after he learned they were paddling on the lake with his canoe. Howley allegedly pushed Pike’s face into the trunk of a police cruiser and knocked Ellison to the ground, where his head hit a rock.
According to an investigation conducted by the Vermont State Police, Senior Trooper Genevra Cushman witnessed the alleged assault on the two men.
She said that though Pike smelled of marijuana, he was "not being threatening in nature.
During the investigation, Pike and Ellison admitted to "borrowing" the canoe and smoking marijuana while on the lake. During the alleged assault, Howley said he was "sick of white trash Vermonters and stupid pot heads," according to court documents.
Mathage told the court on Monday that Howley suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis he received from a Bennington psychiatrist and the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
According to court documents, Marthage told the court that Howley doesn’t recall the alleged assault, though he didn’t dispute the evidence against him.
Howley was scheduled for a jury trial at the beginning of next week, but that has now been canceled, said Matthew Levine, Assistant Attorney General. Levine said the two sides will be back in court within the next 30 to 45 days.
Because Howley, in the course of his duty as a state trooper, worked with the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General took over the prosecution of the case.
This is not the first time Howley has been accused of assaulting a civilian.
In 2005, Howley and three and three other officers, responding to an altercation during a wedding reception in Arlington, allegedly assaulted a New York man with a flashlight, punched him and used pepper spray and a Taser on him while he was restrained. As a result, the man received serious injuries.
Though the man was cited for resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and felony assault on police, the prosecutor declined to pursue the case.
After a civil complaint was filed, an out-of-court settlement totalling $135,000 was reached.
Devin McLaughlin, of Langrock, Speery & Wool in Middlebury, represented the victim in the 2005 case and is now representing Pike and Ellison. McLaughlin said his two clients are looking forward to a resolution of the criminal case so they can push forward with a civil suit against Howley.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.