Assault trial begins for Schenectady cop
SCHENECTADY City police Officer Eric Peters held his girlfriend’s neck while hitting her in the face multiple times inside a parked truck on Park Place last March, a prosecutor told a City Court jury Wednesday morning.
Peters’ defense attorney Kevin Luibrand, though, countered that there was an argument but nothing more. Anything that contradicts that is either false, mistaken or clouded by alcohol, he said.
Peters, 37, now of Albany, is standing trial on one count each of second-degree unlawful imprisonment and third-degree attempted assault, both misdemeanors. He is accused of holding his girlfriend, Bonnie Hathaway-Crandall, inside a vehicle and trying to assault her on March 17, 2011.
Peters has maintained his innocence. Hathaway-Crandall also has denied anything happened. She has also maintained that any injury present that day was because of a dancing mishap earlier in the evening, for which she said there were witnesses.
Prosecutor Christina Tremante-Pelham confirmed to the jury that Peters’ girlfriend will not testify for the prosecution. But the prosecutor argued there are two witnesses who saw the incident as they walked from their nearby apartment. There also were scratches seen on the woman’s neck by a city police investigator.
Peters also showed “consciousness of guilt” by going to the police station that night, while off duty, and asking dispatchers if there was a call to Park Place that night. When told there was but it had been canceled, Peters smirked and said, “Good,” Tremante-Pelham said.
The call had been canceled because of an apparent miscommunication between agencies. The two witnesses who saw the alleged attack knew Peters to be a city police officer and didn’t trust calling city police. They instead called Union College Campus Safety, according to the prosecution.
The witnesses followed up the next day and an investigation was begun, Tremante-Pelham said.
In a fast-moving trial, both witnesses testified Wednesday, one a student at Union Graduate College and the other her friend from work. Both the student, Dolev Melamed, and her friend, Erica Roccario, underwent pointed questioning from Luibrand that focused on details, including their exact positioning related to Peters’ truck and street lights.
The defense attorney attempted to suggest that they couldn’t have seen what they said they saw and that they were intoxicated. The women said they had consumed alcohol just prior to the incident, but that they weren’t drunk.
Luibrand also attempted to suggest that their testimony was coordinated with each other or with prosecutors. Under questioning from Tremante-Pelham, though, Melamed reiterated, “I know what I saw. I’m confident in what I saw.”
What she saw, Melamed testified earlier, was Peters’ hand on the woman’s neck and her head “jolting.”
“I saw her hand over her head as if she was protecting herself,” Melamed said.
Roccario’s account was similar.
“I saw the male cock his hand back and go to hit the woman two to three times,” Roccario said. “After that happened, the driver side door opens and feet came out. She started to get out when she was pulled back into the truck.”
Roccario also said it appeared as if the woman looked at them. “She looked as if she was in pain, her face was just cringed.”
The two witnesses decided to drive away and call authorities, instead of intervening. That they drove away, instead of helping the woman directly, led Melamed to become emotional on the stand, wiping her eyes with tissues.
“I felt terrible,” Melamed said. “What if somebody had seen me in that same situation and they had walked away?”
Also Wednesday, a district attorney’s office investigator testified to seeing three scratches on the back of Hathaway-Crandall’s neck during an interview, scratches the woman refused to allow to be photographed.
Regarding the Peters’ alleged trip to the department dispatchers, three dispatchers and a police sergeant testified to seeing Peters there shortly before 11 p.m. and said he asked about whether there was a call on Park Place. When told the call had been cancelled, two dispatchers testified Peters responded by saying, “Good.” One said she saw a smile or a smirk.
Peters, who was suspended after his March arrest, remains suspended with pay. An internal disciplinary hearing is expected to continue next week, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
Peters is a decorated officer 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.
Three members of Peters’ family sat in the gallery throughout the day, including his parents. His father retired from the force in 2002 as a sergeant.
Peters’ case is being heard before City Court Judge Mark Blanchfield. Testimony is to continue this morning.