SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Just days before he was to be tried for a third time on assault charges, former state trooper Jeffrey Clark on Friday pleaded guilty to two counts of assaulting a handcuffed man who was sitting in the back of a South Kingstown police cruiser six years ago.
Superior Court Judge Edwin Gale sentenced Clark to two one-year suspended sentences with 15 days to serve in prison, with credit for the time Clark served following his initial 2006 conviction.
“It’s clearly a day Jeff would like to have back,” said Clark’s lawyer Kevin Bristow. “Anyone who knows Jeff would agree he had a fine career as a state trooper. … He made mistakes off duty. He has more than paid for them,” including by losing his job.
In 2006, a Washington County Superior Court jury found Clark, now 39, of 254 Laurel Lane, South Kingstown, guilty of pummeling William Skwirz Jr., then 22, as he was handcuffed in the back of a police car early Sept. 5, 2004, and then lying about it.
Witnesses testified that Clark became enraged by a neighbor’s barking dog after he returned from a wedding around 1 a.m. An argument broke out and punches were thrown between Clark and Skwirz, who was celebrating his stepbrother’s return from Iraq next door. Skwirz and his friends claimed Clark threw the first punch; Clark said otherwise.
Prosecutors said Clark solicited South Kingstown officers to help him cover up the assault. South Kingstown Patrolman Robert F. Costantino and two other officers were disciplined for their roles.
Clark was sentenced to serve a year in jail but appealed his conviction. The Rhode Island Supreme Court reversed his conviction, stating that a judge had erred in precluding the defense from questioning Skwirz about his drinking the night of the incident and a $300,000 settlement he got from the Town of South Kingstown as a result of the incident. A second trial ended in a mistrial this summer.
Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said, “We expect law enforcement officers to uphold the solemn oath they take and stand above the law. With the loss of his job as a state trooper and today’s sentencing, this defendant has paid an appropriate and stiff price for abusing the trust placed in him by the Rhode Island state police and the people he pledged to protect and serve.”