Chief Douglas Wright - charged with domestic violence [Aug 02, 2001]
Wright charge dismissed
Posted: Friday, April 5, 2002 12:00 am
Updated: 5:23 pm, Tue Nov 15, 2011.
By JIM DALGLEISH / H-P City Editor
ST. JOSEPH -- With his chief witness refusing to testify, Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry has dismissed the domestic violence charge against former Benton Harbor police Chief Douglas Wright.
Cherry said Thursday that Wright's wife, Lucy, refused to return to Michigan to testify in the trial that was to begin Thursday. Until then, Cherry said, Lucy Wright had made repeated assurances she would testify.
Wright was arrested after allegedly beating his wife Aug. 2, 2001, at the couple's Benton Harbor home. City Manager Joel Patterson suspended Wright shortly afterward and fired him in November.
Douglas Wright's lawyer, Tat Parish of Watervliet, said Thursday that Lucy Wright's refusal to testify suggests there wasn't much of a case to begin with.
"He was quite wrongly fired as a result of it," Parish said. "He suffered greatly."
Parish said his client, who remains in Benton Harbor, is applying for other jobs.
"(The charge) has been a big burden on him," Parish said. "It's awfully hard to get a job in police work with a criminal charge hanging over your head."
Parish declined to comment on whether Wright would sue the city over his firing.
The city hired Wright as chief in June 2000. He had worked as deputy chief of public safety at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Before that he was the Gary, Ind., police chief.
Thursday's dismissal of the domestic violence charge ends a prosecution stalled by procedural problems. Cherry initially disqualified himself from the case, citing his professional relationship with Wright and the police department. Cherry asked that a special prosecutor be appointed, and Berrien Chief Trial Court Judge Paul Maloney then asked the Allegan County prosecutor's office to act in Cherry's place.
That office charged Wright with domestic violence and felony obstruction of police. The latter charge stemmed from the prosecution's allegation that Wright tried to keep police from responding to the call at the couple's home.
But Berrien Trial Court Judge John Hammond dismissed the charges, saying Cherry didn't have enough legal reason to bring in an outside prosecutor.
Cherry argued otherwise. But the point may have become moot because Wright had been fired by the time Hammond ruled.
So Cherry filed the domestic violence charge against Wright but dropped the obstruction charge, saying it would be too tough to prove in court.
Cherry on Thursday would not divulge Lucy Wright's whereabouts, saying only that she is not living in a state bordering Michigan. He said his office offered her transportation and lodging.
"However, in spite of repeated efforts to encourage her appearance, Mrs. Wright has chosen to forego the opportunity to testify," Cherry wrote in a press release.
Had he been tried and convicted of domestic violence, Wright could have served up to 93 days in jail.