A Fresno County sheriff’s deputy once given the state’s highest public service award has accepted a plea deal in a case in which he was accused him of hitting his former girlfriend, also a sheriff’s deputy, during a 2015 dispute at her Fresno home.
Mark Eaton, a 23-year law enforcement veteran, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of making phone calls with the intent to annoy in exchange for the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office dropping a misdemeanor battery charge.
As part of the deal, Eaton must stay 100 yards from the victim unless the two are exchanging their 3-year-old daughter. He must also complete a one-year intervention program. If he is not arrested on probable cause for anything in the next 13 months, the phone call conviction will be cleared from his record.
Eaton’s attorney, Sally Vecchiarelli, said that no domestic violence or physical abuse ever occurred. Instead, she said, the victim used her knowledge of the law to hurt Eaton in an ongoing child-custody dispute.
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Eaton was forced to give up his gun and was placed on leave by the sheriff’s office after his arrest in November, Vecchiarelli said. Fresno County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Botti confirmed that Eaton remains on non-paid leave.
In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown awarded Eaton and several other detectives the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor for their actions during a 2010 shootout in Minkler in which they rushed to the aid of two fallen law enforcement officers.
Eaton also lost his joint custody of the 3-year-old he raises with the victim. For 16 months, Vecchiarelli said, he was limited to one supervised visit per week. He is now allowed two unsupervised visits – about four hours total – per week. He also lost custody of an older daughter from a previous marriage.
“He may be able to get them back,” Vecchiarelli said. “But his reputation is completely tarnished. He knows he will never work in law enforcement again. He’s dealt with that. Now, he’s just trying to be an active father in his daughter’s life.”
The Fresno County District Attorney’s office declined to comment on why it dropped the battery charge or any other specifics, saying it was still an open case until Eaton completes the program and returns to court in June 2018.