Westmoreland DA accepts handling of cop case
It's proper for an Arnold police officer and his wife to await a hearing for a domestic altercation May 11 without first being arraigned, according to the Westmoreland County district attorney.
Patrolman Eric Doutt, and his wife, Karen D. Doutt, both 43, of Woodmont Avenue, Arnold, were sent court summons to appear at a hearing July 5 before Jeannette District Judge Joseph DeMarchis, according to his office staff.
District Attorney John Peck said the two "weren't charged with the most serious of offenses, and they aren't considered a flight risk."
If the officers who responded to the 911 call thought they either Doutt was such a risk, or domestic violence was charged, the pair would have been taken to a district judge to be formally arraigned and bond set, Peck said.
According to court papers, Karen Doutt is accused of simple assault and harassment. After allegedly hitting her husband in the presence of Arnold officers, she was handcuffed and put in a police car.
Eric Doutt allegedly ignored police orders, tried to pull her out of the car, and then pushed an Arnold police officer.
Doutt, who was the city's police chief until January and is a New Kensington-Arnold school director, is accused of obstructing administration of law or other governmental function, simple assault, hindering apprehension or prosecution, and harassment.
The Doutts were released and were told they would receive summons.
Peck said it was within police discretion to release the Doutts based on what the officers saw.
He said Doutt is accused of touching the officer, but Doutt wasn't armed and he didn't try to hurt him. That's why he wasn't charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, Peck said.
"Not knowing all the details, I would think that it was within the discretion of the officers," said Professor Don Zettlemoyer, who directs the Penn State University Justice and Safety Institute.
At the same time, Zettlemoyer said, Arnold police also could have waited for state troopers to arrive before letting the couple go.
He agrees that from what he has heard, an aggravated assault isn't warranted.
"Usually, there has to be a weapon or threat of serious bodily harm," he said.
Ellen Kramer, the legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she couldn't talk about specific cases.
But she said it's always more difficult when a police officer's spouse feels she needs to call for help.
"The officer has access to guns and knows the system," Kramer said. "And the victim knows that the people responding to her calls for help are the people that he works with.
"Think about the incredible courage that it takes just for a woman to make a call to 911," she said.
Michele Bond, director of the HOPE Center domestic violence organization serving much of the Alle-Kiski Valley, agreed. She said Arnold and other area police departments receive additional training about how to handle domestic cases.
Other details about the case may have to wait until the preliminary hearing in July.
Arnold Mayor Larry Milito said Wednesday that police handled the dispute in the best way they could. He notes that police had visited the Doutt house before for similar complaints.
Arnold police Chief Willie Weber on Thursday refused to release any such reports about other alleged incidents.
Arnold City Clerk Floyd Newingham said officials would review a Right to Know request filed by the Valley News Dispatch, but the matter appears to involve an ongoing police investigation and wouldn't immediately be made public.
According to the county's prothonotary's office, PFAs haven't been filed by either parties in the case.
As a result of the incident, Doutt has been demoted from detective sergeant to patrolman and will be suspended without pay starting Sunday, Arnold Mayor Larry Milito said.
Weber declined comment, citing the pending hearing and a continuing internal personnel review for Doutt.
Eric Doutt declined to comment as well. Karen Doutt didn't return a call for comment.
Reached on phone during a business trip, New Kensington-Arnold School Board President Robert Pallone referred calls to board Solicitor Anthony J. Vigilante.
Vigilante wasn't available at his phone at his Lower Burrell office and didn't return a message left on his cell phone.