Just like many domestic assault cases, evidence presented Tuesday against a former police officer turned private investigator has the appearance of a he-said, she-said battle.
The incident happened April 15 between Jason East and his former wife, Carmen Collins. She said he kicked her dog and beat her up while East contends he only pushed her away when she began pulling his shirt in a fit of anger and that he went to sleep in his vehicle.
East, 42, is charged with simple domestic assault on Collins, to whom he had been married for just six months.
Unicoi County General Sessions Judge David Schultz, who was appointed to hear the case because of East’s former work as a Johnson City police officer, didn’t not rule on the case because he had to cut the hearing short for a personal matter.
Testimony will continue July 22.
But what Schultz did hear — from Collins, East, police and other witnesses — was a story of an alleged jealous wife, uncharacteristic behavior from East and the end of the marriage in that one night.
Collins testified that she hosted a bridal shower for a friend that night while East went to a “cage fight.” They met up later that night when the bridal party went to Gourmet & Company for drinks. Collins said East and a friend who went to the fight insinuated they had drank a couple of pitchers of beer, but East later testified it was one “mini” pitcher.
He also testified that when he arrived for the after-party, a female acquaintance hugged him before he reached his wife’s table, and that gesture made her jealous, as did a “high five” he and another friend shared during the evening’s conversation.
But it wasn’t until the couple got home that emotions boiled over and the couple argued. East testified it began when they walked in the door and a new puppy had used the bathroom on the floor.
They have differing accounts of what happened — Collins testified that it was no big deal to her but East wasn’t happy about it and kicked her older dog, who then messed on himself. East testified it was Collins who became angry at the puppy and pushed its face toward the poop and hit the dog.
He said he used his foot to slide the older dog’s bed toward the door to get him out more quickly, but then Collins became enraged, accusing him of kicking her dog.
Collins said when her husband came back into the house, he assaulted her, knocked her to the ground, slammed her head on the floor, twisted her neck and scratched her chest.
“I said, ‘Please let me leave.’ I screamed multiple times and I set my panic alarm off on my car,” she said. “I said, ‘Jason, I love you. I love you. Please stop.’ ” she said.
That’s when East stopped assaulting her, she said, and said, “I’m done. I’m done. Call the police,” before he picked up his backpack and walked out.
East, however, testified that his wife yelled him about kicking the dog and told him to get out of her house.
“She grabbed my shirt. I told her, ‘Don’t touch me,’ ” East said. That’s when East said he pushed his wife just to get her away from in front of him.
“She did fall down,” he said. Then, he said, Collins got up and grabbed his shirt again, eventually ripping it.
“I held my hands up. ... She bit me,” and he pushed her again, East said. He testified he told her they needed to get counseling and that he was going to leave so things could calm down. East said he went to his vehicle, got inside and fell asleep.
Some time later, he woke up to find a Johnson City police officer outside the vehicle. East said he was surprised because he didn’t think the situation warranted police intervention.
But officers at the scene — all who worked with East when he was a police officer — noted several injuries to Collins, including a split lip, and none to East. Tennessee state law requires police to make an arrest in an domestic assault when they determine which person was the primary aggressor.
East said he had no idea how Collins’ lip got busted or how she received other injuries. “When I walked out, she had no marks on her face,” he said.
East testified that he did have injuries from the encounter, which he later photographed, but he didn’t tell police because “I didn’t want my wife to go to jail.”
East denied Collins’ allegations that he covered her mouth and choked her, twisted her neck, punched her in the side and kicked her.
Defense attorney Jim Bowman questioned Collins about her not giving some of that information to police for her statement about the incident. Collins said she was in shock and wasn’t able to recall every part of the incident when she gave her statement, but that photographs of multiple bruises on her body corroborate her account.
On cross examination by Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Kaylin Render — who like Schultz was appointed to the case because of East’s prior police position — asked East about two former wives and allegations of him abusing them. He denied those and other allegations of abusive behavior that Render asked him about.
The case recessed shortly after 5 p.m. and testimony will resume next week.