Suspended state trooper on trial

Last updated: March 18. 2014 11:38PM - 6818 Views
By - rdupuis@civitasmedia.com

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WILKES-BARRE — She had trust issues and feared he was cheating. He believed she might be tampering with access to his Verizon cellphone account.

It all came to a head with a scuffle one night after he ran wet and naked out of the shower to find her unexpectedly in his kitchen, holding a cellphone.

Now a Luzerne County jury is set to assess whether crimes were committed by suspended state trooper Carrie Ann Gula as her on-again, off-again relationship with ex-boyfriend Eric Thomas spiralled toward its final, bitter collapse in the aftermath of an Aug. 1, 2012, confrontation at Thomas’ Exeter home.

“I do believe the evidence will show this relationship brought out the worst in both of them,” defense attorney Joseph Nocito said during his opening statement Tuesday at Gula’s trial on accusations that she illegally accessed the My Verizon Wireless account for Thomas’ cellphone service and then lied to troopers by falsely accusing Thomas of assaulting her.

Gula, 35, of West Pittston, faces charges of computer trespassing, criminal use of a communication facility, unlawful use of a computer and making false reports to police. Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts is prosecuting the case, with county Judge Lesa Gelb presiding.

Testimony is set to resume this morning, and Nocito has said Gula will take the stand.

“There were trust issues in this relationship,” Roberts said — trust issues that exploded after Thomas accused Gula of “playing with my account” and changed his Verizon password.

“She liked to check up on him. When she couldn’t, she freaked out,” Roberts said.

In a statement Gula gave to state police, read aloud by a trooper, she wrote: “I took him back after he cheated,” saying Thomas had in fact given her his password, “to see who he talks to,” including women and some friends about whom she had concerns due to possible involvement in drug activity.

What Joseph Nocito termed “he said, she said” allegations between a boyfriend and girlfriend quickly took on the tone of “he lied, she lied,” as profanity-laced testimony revealed mounting allegations of dishonesty, both between the warring lovers and between each of them and state police investigating the case.

Thomas’ testimony

“What happened at my house was out of control. I just wanted to be done with her,” said Thomas, the trial’s first witness.

Thomas said he previously was at Gula’s home and happened on an open drawer that he tried to close. Finding it stuck, Thomas said he removed the drawer and recognized colored sticky notes on which he had written passwords and security questions for his Internet accounts — notes from his home and wallet, he said.

“I was not snooping,” he said, but Thomas also didn’t tell his girlfriend what he had found, nor ask what she was doing with the notes.

“I just wanted to keep the peace, I didn’t know what was going on,” said Thomas, adding that he took his passwords home and stored the papers in his safe.

What prompted the password concern before the Aug. 1 encounter was an email Thomas said he received at work from Verizon, regarding business account services.

Nocito displayed the message for jurors, saying “This is just an ad.”

But Thomas said he thought it might indicate his accounts had been linked, and passwords had been changed, although “I wasn’t sure what it meant,” he conceded.

Thomas testified he logged in and changed his own My Verizon password. Admitting, also, that “I did not know for sure” if Gula had accessed his account, he sent her a text message: “don’t be playing with my account.”

Credibility questions

Gula responded angrily, according to Thomas. Despite an escalating series of text messages that ended with an apparent break-up that day, Thomas admitted that he never told Gula he reset his own password.

“Yes, I did lie to her,” he said.

Thomas also admitted he did not tell state police about changing it, but he denied accusations he intentionally led police to believe Gula had done so. “It was never my goal to get the defendant in trouble. I said it possibly could have been her, I wasn’t sure,” he said.

Trooper Lisa Brogan, with the criminal investigation unit at state police Troop P in Wyoming, testified that Thomas told her he did not change his password.

“I don’t believe he initially lied. He didn’t understand,” Brogan told Nocito, adding that she believed Thomas seemed confused about computer-related questions.

Scuffle details

Thomas said he understood Gula would be at work until 11 on the night in question. When he heard noises downstairs while showering, shortly after 9 p.m., Thomas said he ran downstairs to find Gula leaving with what he believed was his phone. He said he tried to grab his phone from her, but never assaulted her. He claimed he suffered bruises from several falls in the process — one over a chair as they struggled — and that Gula kicked him in the knee.

Gula’s then supervisor, Lt. Sean Jennings, testified that Gula requested to leave early to care for her ill father. When her mother got home early, Gula told Brogan, she said she went to Thomas’ house intending to pick up some of her belongings, and let herself in.

Jennings said Gula told him Thomas’ cellphone rang while in the kitchen, she picked it up — as was not uncommon — and saw a woman’s name flashing. As Thomas entered, Gula said she asked about the call and he began to assault her, Jennings said Gula told him.

Brogan said Gula told her Thomas came down from the shower, “charged” at her, grabbed her by the neck, brandished what she thought was a broken piece of chair or mirror and broke a bathroom door when she tried to hide from him.

“He spit at me and told me he didn’t care if I had a uniform on, he would get away with it,” Brogan read from Gula’s statement. Gula said she eventually got free and left, Brogan said.

Brogan testified that investigation revealed key elements in Gula’s account — particularly damage inside Thomas’ home — could not be found, and “my conclusion was that what Ms. Gula had reported was unfounded.”

Of Gula’s interview, Brogan said: “She was fidgety, teary-eyed, a little misty. She was also artificial, a little rehearsed … in the way she set the stage, the way she set up the scenario.”

Gula was arrested in December 2012.

After the initial incident and interviews, it took about a month before Thomas would give a written statement, which Nocito contrasted with Gula’s having given a written account the very next day.

Thomas testified he had spoken with Gula after the encounter, and he didn’t want her to get in trouble at work because he thought she might be pregnant.

“No possible way, if I’m with somebody, I’m going to make a written statement if they’re pregnant with my kid,” he said.

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