Former officer’s conviction upheld

HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the conviction of a former Altoona police officer for an aggravated assault that occurred nearly four years ago at an Altoona bar.

The officer, Duane Eichenlaub, has been serving a county prison sentence of 111/2-23 months for injuring 59-year-old Earl Eshelman, a customer at the bar who became concerned when Eichenlaub and another officer, Eric Kriner, both off-duty, pummelled Herman Lardieri of Altoona in the men’s room.

Eshelman, according to the testimony, was pulling Eichenlaub off Lardieri when Eichenlaub turned and punched him multiple times in the head and face.

The older man was hospitalized for six days and still suffers from effects of the blows.

Eichenlaub was upset at Lardieri on May 30, 2010, because he allegedly had made “inappropriate contact” with Eichenlaub’s wife in the bar area, according to a Superior Court opinion issued Tuesday afternoon.

The officer was also convicted of several offenses associated with attempts to cover up the incident and was placed on three years’ probation by Judge Timothy M. Sullivan.

While Sullivan sentenced Eichenlaub to a prison term below the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines for the assault on Eshleman, the defense appealed the conviction, contending the evidence didn’t support such a serious charge.

The defense during the trial maintained that Eshelman had applied a dangerous chokehold to Eichenlaub’s neck to drag him away from Lardieri.

Eshelman denied that point, stating he had grabbed Eichenlaub around the waist.

Eichenlaub, who had served as a military police officer as well as an officer for the city, stated there was no intent to injure Eshelman, and his attack was “a mere reflex or reaction, consistent with his training as a police officer,” the Superior Court opinion indicated.

A three-judge panel consisting of Jacqueline O. Shogan, Judith Ference Olson and David N. Wecht concluded, “The trial evidence was more than sufficient to support a finding that Eichenlaub acted recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.”

The defense claimed that to convict for aggravated assault, the attack had to cause injuries so severe that they would ordinarily have caused death.

The court said that interpretation of the law was overstated.

“Serious bodily injury reasonably can be anticipated when a young and fit military-trained aggressor delivers repeated, excessive, and unreturned closed-fist blows to the head and face of a defenseless 59-year-old victim,” the judges stated.

The officer acted, the Superior Court ruled, “in a manner which manifested as extreme indifference to the value of Eshelman’s life.”

Eichenlaub can request a review of the Superior Court decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Kriner was not charged in the Eshelman assault but pleaded to simple assault of Lardieri and to the cover-up charges. He received four years’ probation.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.