Brett Myers Case Obscures an Important Truth About Domestic Violence Arrests

By Michael McCormick and Glenn Sacks

An important truth has been lost in the controversy over the way the Philadelphia Phillies handled pitcher Brett Myers after his recent arrest for spousal abuse. Mrs. Myers’ injuries and the accounts of several witnesses leave little reason to doubt her husband’s culpability. Nevertheless, the Phillies at first reserved judgment about the case, and allowed Myers to pitch.

This was wrong, as the team admitted after widespread criticism, and Myers was given a leave of absence. However, in many domestic violence cases the men arrested do deserve the open mind and support which the Phillies mistakenly extended Myers. Spousal abuse arrests are often dubious, in part because of misguided domestic violence laws and law enforcement policies.

Seattle police lieutenant Greg Schmidt, who created the Seattle Police Department’s domestic violence investigation unit in 1994, says that the mandatory arrest laws of most states force police officers to make arrests "in petty incidents, often where the abuse is mutual or it is unclear who the aggressor was."

Moreover, Schmidt asserts, the dominant aggressor doctrine instructs police to downplay who struck the first blow in a domestic incident, and discourages dual arrests, which are often an appropriate measure. Instead, officers are pressured to see men and only men as the offenders.

Spurious spousal abuse accusations and domestic violence restraining orders are often used as legal maneuvers in divorce cases. The State Bar of California’s Family Law Section recently complained that these tactics are "increasingly being used in family law cases to help one side jockey for an advantage in child custody." They’re "part of the gamesmanship of divorce," as one attorney recently explained in the Illinois Bar Journal.

An excellent example of what can happen to an athlete, or any man, is the saga of another major league pitcher arrested for spousal abuse—Scott Erickson.

Erickson was arrested after he called the police during an altercation with his girlfriend in July of 2002. According to the Associated Press, the Baltimore police concluded that Erickson’s girlfriend Lisa Ortiz: initiated the fight by hurling objects; decided to come back twice after Erickson carried her out of the apartment; repeatedly kicked the apartment door; caused Erickson two minor injuries, one of them to his pitching arm; and herself suffered no injuries.

Nonetheless, the police arrested Erickson under Maryland’s mandatory arrest law. Afterwards Ortiz publicly stated that Erickson, who did not pursue her either time after carrying her out, "has never been physically abusive toward me."

After Erickson’s arrest he was excoriated by sportswriters and domestic violence activists. Later, even as a police spokesperson announced that the charges against Erickson were being dropped, the spokesperson continued to refer to Ortiz as "the victim." To this day the influential Family Violence Prevention Fund lists Erickson in its "Hall of Shame."

In another case, Houston Astros shortstop Julio Lugo was arrested for a misdemeanor assault on his wife in April of 2003. Though Lugo maintained his innocence, the Astros—perhaps acting on the stereotype of Latin men as wife-beaters—got rid of him within hours of the incident. However, at Lugo’s trial his wife absolved him of guilt, and he was acquitted.

Contrary to the charges leveled by the Phillies’ numerous critics, the club wasn’t wrong in its desire to afford its player the benefit of the doubt. The problem is that in Myers’ case there is no doubt. However, the next time an athlete is arrested for domestic violence, there probably will be. Will the team involved turn its back on its player because of the precedent set in the Myers case?

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