Fresno deputy's heroism could help in domestic violence case

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A Fresno County sheriff's sergeant facing criminal charges that could end his career, but an act of heroism could save him. Sgt. Mark Eaton was arrested for domestic violence late last year. (KFSN)

A Fresno County sheriff's sergeant is facing criminal charges that could end his career, but an act of heroism could save him.

Sgt. Mark Eaton was arrested for domestic violence late last year.

Any domestic violence conviction comes with a 10-year ban on owning guns, so that can end a career in law enforcement. But there are a couple ways Eaton could get around that, even if he's convicted.

"We enter a not guilty plea to all charges," said Leslie Moore, Eaton's defense attorney.

Eaton is not admitting anything for the time being. Fresno police arrested the Fresno County sheriff's sergeant last year for an alleged attack on his girlfriend, who's a deputy in the same department.

She reported Eaton had grabbed her face and her nose and squeezed pretty hard, then shoved her. She said he also squeezed her neck, and then made persistent, unwanted contact for a couple months.

In court Monday, a deputy served a criminal protective order on Eaton, keeping him from making contact with the deputy and imposing other restrictions.

"Your Honor, it's my understanding the defendant has turned over his firearms," said prosecutor Monica Diaz.

A ban on possessing guns may be the most serious restriction for a law enforcement officer, but, for now, it's not an issue. Eaton is on paid leave for the duration
of an internal affairs investigation.

It's a far cry from five years ago, when Gov. Jerry Brown gave him a Medal of Valor for his role in trying to save deputy Joel Wahlenmaier during a deadly shooting in Minkler. "High stress leads to situations like this," said legal analyst Ralph Torres.

Torres says Eaton's background could convince prosecutors and a judge to allow a settlement that doesn't involve a domestic violence conviction.

"There's going to be an avenue to try and get the best resolution for him," Torres said. "It just depends on the nature of the evidence. How severe was it? What does the victim want? What type of treatment is he willing to accept."

Eaton's situation may be more complicated, though, because there was a witness and like both Eaton and the victim, that person works in law enforcement.
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