ERIE, Pa. — An Erie police officer is now on unpaid administrative leave and will head to trial on a simple assault charge that he kicked a man in the face during a domestic dispute call in October.

Officer Justin W. Griffith, 35, had his preliminary hearing Tuesday in front of District Justice Chris MacKendrick in Springfield Township and will face a jury for simple assault.

Griffith is charged with assault following an incident that stemmed from a domestic dispute call on the city’s east side Oct. 10. Erie Police Lt. Jon Peters testified on Tuesday that Griffith and five other officers responded to the incident in the 2000 block of Wallace Street where Griffith allegedly kicked Patrick Gehrlein, 33, in the face while he was handcuffed.

Peters said that Gehrlein told police he had AIDs and spit blood at Griffith, leading Griffith to swear at him and kick him in the face.

According to the criminal complaint, Gehrlein was handcuffed and placed face down before he rolled over on his side and said he had AIDs and began spitting blood toward officers. Officers attempted to stop Gehrlein from spitting before Griffith kicked him in the face, the complaint said.  

Gehrlein took the stand and said, “I said I was HIV positive and began spitting on the officers” and “I took a blow to the face by the officer sitting in front of me.”

Gehrlein said he needed surgery to fix his multiple face fractures.

Gehrlein was taken to the police station following the incident and received medical treatment before being placed in the cell. He was transported to UPMC Hamot with facial fractures around the eye and cheek, Erie Police Chief Don Dacus said in an October news conference.

The defense argued that Griffith was doing his civil duty trying to protect himself and his other officers from becoming infected with the disease and asked for the charges to be dropped.

The prosecution argued that it was an assault that occurred and they are looking for a full conviction.

Griffith, an eight-year veteran with the Erie police, was charged on Oct. 18 following a weeklong criminal investigation after officers who were at the scene witnessed the event and brought the information forward.

Griffith was released on $5,000 unsecured bond.