Two years after a Buffalo police officer allegedly boasted to a federal prosecutor about throwing Thamud Eldridge down a flight of stairs, a judge has ruled that Eldridge is not entitled to a new trial.
U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara concluded the officer’s statements were “embellishments and exaggerations” and found no evidence that the officer or his partner used excessive force.
Eldridge’s request for a new trial – he was convicted of drug and gun possession charges – stemmed from a conversation that Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Tripi said he heard in a hotel bar in Atlanta two years ago.
Tripi said he was sitting next to Officer Earl Perrin, who was bragging to an old high school friend about his job, when Perrin suddenly boasted about taking Eldridge down a flight of “stairs head first like da, da, da, da, da” and then having to mop up the blood.
“The court finds these statements to be unreliable since, at the time they were made, Perrin was at a bar, heavily intoxicated and engaged in juvenile banter,” Arcara said in his ruling.
The judge said he found little physical evidence to support the suggestion that Perrin and fellow Officer Mark White assaulted Eldridge on the night he was arrested.
He also raised doubts about Eldridge’s account of what happened that night in December 2005 and noted that he waited three years before filing a formal complaint against the officers.
“The ever-changing nature of defendant’s complaints indicates to this court that there has been a clear attempt on the part of the defendant to change or tailor his story based on Perrin’s statements at the Atlanta bar,” Arcara said.
Eldridge’s lawyer declined to comment on the ruling except to say that he’s exploring how it affects a pending legal challenge to his original conviction. Eldridge, who already has murder and manslaughter convictions on his record, one of which was overturned on appeal, is currently serving eight years for the cocaine and gun possession conviction on his 2005 arrest by Perrin and White.
He also has been indicted on separate charges of racketeering, kidnapping, robbery and murder in the killing of two Buffalo men in 2005.
U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said the judge’s ruling is confirmation that Eldridge’s arrest was done by the book and that his conviction was correct. Hochul also praised Tripi for coming forward and reporting to his supervisors what he heard that night in the hotel bar.
“It was something we needed to do as prosecutors,” he said of Tripi’s actions and the court hearings that followed. “We obviously have a duty to see that justice is done.”
Perrin and White denied any wrongdoing in Eldridge’s arrest, but Arcara found Tripi’s account of what he heard credible enough to hold hearings on the matter.
In his ruling, Arcara suggested that while Tripi testified that Perrin’s statements had a “ring of truth,” there was strong evidence to suggest they were nothing more than alcohol-induced bravado intended to impress an old friend.
Perrin admits drinking at least five Long Island Iced Teas that night, each one with six shots of liquor.