Former Vermont State Trooper Eric Howley was on duty April 8 when investigators say he roughed up two men at a lake in Wilmington. Court papers say Howley believed the men, Anton Pike and Mark Ellison, stole his canoe. When the two got back from their paddle, which involved smoking pot, police say Howley repeatedly slammed Pike's head against the trunk of his cruiser, and then pushed Ellison into a rock, splitting his head open.
"There are two counts of simple assault. Both are misdemeanors. And the potential sentence is not more than one year or a $1,000 fine on each count," Vermont Assistant Attorney General Matthew Levine said.
A fellow trooper witnessed the incident and, according to documents, had to pull Howley off one of the men. At one point Howley was heard shouting he would "show him what police brutality was all about" and he was "sick of white trash Vermonters and stupid potheads." After an internal investigation by the Vermont State Police, Windham County State's Attorney Tracy Shriver handed the case over to the attorney general's office.
"My understanding is that she had several cases routinely in which Trooper Howley was an officer. And just to remove any question about the fairness of the review and the decision to charge," Levine explained.
This is not the first time Howley has been accused of using excessive force. Howley and several other troopers were sued for allegedly beating a man with flashlights and using a Taser on him repeatedly while handcuffed. They were responding to a dispute at a wedding in Arlington back in 2005. The man was left with broken facial bones and a concussion. No criminal charges were brought. The case was settled out of court for $135,000.
Howley resigned from the state police when criminal charges were filed last month. We asked a spokesperson from Vermont State Police if there was concern the more recent charges could tarnish the image of the agency, however all questions were referred to the AG's office.
"That is not really a concern that we look at. We look at the merits of each case individually and make a decision of whether to prosecute or not based on that," Levine said.
Howley left the court after pleading not guilty to the two charges with no comment. No bail was set, however several conditions were, including that Howley have no contact with the two alleged victims in the case.
Prosecutors say they are not pursing any charges in connection with the pot which was recovered at the scene or the alleged theft of the canoe.