HOLLIDAYSBURG - Blair County Judge Timothy M. Sullivan issued an opinion Tuesday in which he refused to dismiss criminal charges against two former Altoona police officers involved in a brawl at a local bar in May 2010.
The judge has ordered the former officers, Duane J. Eichenlaub, 29, and Eric R. Kriner, 32, to appear in court on Sept. 17 for a trial list review.
At that time, the judge in charge of the proceedings will likely set a date for jury selection.
The incident at Pellegrine's Lounge in Altoona has been a matter of local controversy for more than two years, because the officers are charged with conspiring with investigators to cover up their involvement in a fight that resulted in injury to two men, Herman "Bo" Lardieri III, 40, and Earl Eshelman, 60.
Lardieri suffered a broken jaw after the officers allegedly attacked him in the men's room.
Eichenlaub was particularly upset because of an incident that night in which Lardieri allegedly lifted his wife's dress.
Kriner is charged with accompanying Eichenlaub into the men's room in pursuit of Lardieri, 40, with both men pummeling him.
Eshelman was in the restroom at the time, reports state.
When he saw Lardieri being punched, he wrapped his arms around Eichenlaub in an attempt to pull him away from the victim but was then allegedly beaten by Eichenlaub and Kriner.
Eshelman, according to testimony at the preliminary hearing, suffered a broken nose, a split septum or wall between the nostrils, a crushed orbital bone, a torn retina and bruising of the brain.
He has since undergone four spine surgeries.
Both former officers face charges of conspiracy to prevent apprehension or prosecution, conspiracy to tamper with public records, conspiracy to obstruct law enforcement or other governmental functions, aggravated assault and simple assault.
Sullivan rejected the defense request to dismiss many of the charges, refused to sever the cases for trial and rejected a request to dismiss conspiracy and obstruction charges against Kriner, who is contending he was the victim of selective prosecution.
One of the charges is that Eichenlaub and Kriner urged police, who were called to the scene, to cover up their involvement.
The preliminary hearing testimony, Sullivan stated, showed that investigating officer Jack Kuhn, who is no longer with the police force, received three calls from Eichenlaub that night. In one call Eichenlaub supposedly said, "Kriner and I just tuned up a guy in the bathroom; just make it go away."
The testimony, the judge wrote, showed Kuhn "decided to help him out."
Kriner is alleged to have told another officer, who was off-duty that night but at the bar, that they were going to "handle the whole incident."
"Immediately following the fight, as evidenced by the testimony ... both [Eichenlaub and Kriner] engaged in acts to prevent the investigating officers from prosecuting them," Sullivan stated as he upheld the charge of conspiracy to prevent apprehension or prosecution.
The judge concluded that the testimony "establishes that defendant Eichenlaub intended to tamper with the police report when he called officer Kuhn and specifically requested his name be omitted from the report."
While stating the evidence against Kriner for tampering with public records "is not as clear," the judge noted that Kuhn allowed both officers to look at his report of the incident, which did not contain their names.
Attorney Roger Laguna of Harrisburg, who represents Kriner, said on Tuesday he was surprised that the aggravated assault charge against Kriner was upheld. He pointed out that Eshelman, in his preliminary hearing testimony, named Eichenlaub as the person who struck him repeatedly. However, the judge noted in his opinion that Eshelman testified he thought more than one person was hitting him, stating "it was just one hit after another."
Laguna said Sullivan was not declaring either Eichenlaub or Kriner guilty of the offenses.
Attorney Lawrence J. Rosen, representing Eichenlaub, was not available for comment on Tuesday.
Sullivan did not rule on the defense's request to bring in an outside jury for trial. He said an attempt will first be made to find an impartial jury from Blair County.
The charges against the officers came after a statewide grand jury under the attorney general, which heard testimony from witnesses.
In July, Lardieri was found guilty of perjury before the grand jury for denying he had a confrontation with Mrs. Eichenlaub at Pellegrine's, but the jury was unable to decide if Lardieri had committed indecent assault of her.