Erie police officer faces assault charge

Posted: Oct 18, 2016 11:35 AM EDT

Updated: Apr 19, 2017 09:31 AM EDT

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ERIE, Pa. – An Erie police officer was put on paid administrative leave and faces a simple assault charge after kicking a man in the face during a domestic dispute call on the city’s east side Oct. 10.

Erie Police Chief Don Dacus said during a news conference on Tuesday that officer Justin W. Griffith, 35, was charged with simple assault following a weeklong criminal investigation.

Dacus said the simple assault charge was recommended by District Attorney Jack Daneri.

Police were called to 2012 Wallace St., Oct. 10 for a domestic dispute that involved weapons, according to a criminal complaint.

Officers encountered Patrick Gehrlein in an upstairs apartment before he was taken into police custody. Gehrlein was handcuffed and placed face down before he rolled over on his side and stated he had AIDS and began spitting toward officers, according to the complaint.

The complaint said two officers put a foot on Gehrlein to place him with his back on the ground to stop him from spitting. That’s when officer Griffith said an expletive before kicking Gehrlein in the face “like he was a ball,” the complaint said.

Gehrlein was taken to the police station and received medical treatment before being placed in the cell. He was transported to UPMC Hamot with facial fractures around the eye and cheek, according to Dacus.

Gehrlein, 33, is currently in the Erie County Prison on charges including terroristic threats, simple assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Three officers at the scene witnessed the event and brought the information forward immediately, Dacus said.

Griffith, an eight-year veteran with the Erie police, is on paid administrative leave and is likely to lose his job if found guilty, according to Dacus.

His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Officers who witnessed the event will have to testify against Griffith.

“We do have issues that come up every once in a while,” Dacus said.” Our officers are doing what is right.”

Both Dacus and Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott commended the police officers for reporting the incident.

“I believe this incident demonstrates that our officers have the ability to hold themselves accountable and police each other while they are on the streets of the city and ensure that our community is safe,” Dacus said.

There was no video from the confrontation.

“This was not a question of being caught on tape on a cellphone or camera,” Sinnott said. “This shows the officers hold each other accountable. They came forward, it didn’t require a body camera to get justice in this case.”

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