Criminal charges have been filed against a probation officer in connection with a fight that took place in March at a Salt Lake bar.
Wayne Ashton, 29, Salt Lake City, was charged last week with battery, a class B misdemeanor. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail and could also lose his police certification.Ashton was charged almost two months after he and several others were allegedly involved in a fight at Nickel's Bar, 1355 E. 2100 South. He was the only person charged in a March 28 fight that began between another probation officer and a bar patron about 10:50 p.m., according to Salt Lake police reports.
Ashton, probation agent Dan Love and three other men had been watching a University of Utah basketball game at the bar. Sometime after the game was over, Love's brother-in-law Chris Noble entered the bar with Eric Leyba, a man acquainted with at least two of the men in Ashton's party, the report said. A short time after that, Leyba's brother Mark joined Noble and his brother.
That's when the trouble started, although who started it depends on who's doing the talking, according to the reports. Love said a verbal exchange occurred between himself and Eric Leyba. Love told officers that Mark Leyba approached him from behind, and Love told him to back off.
Love said he was then asked by a bar employee to do something "because he was a cop," the report said. In a subsequent interview, however, that bar employee denied making such a statement.
More words were exchanged, at which time Love said Eric Leyba spit at him and then Mark Leyba punched him in the forehead, knock-ing him into a table and onto the ground, according to the reports. That's when Ashton came out of the restroom.
Ashton told police he saw Love being attacked and immediately tried to bring the situation under control by grabbing Eric Leyba and putting him in an arrest type hold, the reports said.
The probation officer, who's responsible for overseeing those convicted of crimes both before and after they serve jail or prison sentences, said he identified himself as a police officer and told someone at the bar to call police.
He said Eric Leyba continued to struggle and he pulled him away from the bar and pushed him face down onto a pool table, legs on the floor with his arms behind his back, the report said.
But at least four witnesses told investigators that Ashton repeatedly smashed Eric Leyba's head into the bar and then the pool table. Those same witnesses said Ashton didn't just identify himself as a police officer, he said, "You (messed) with one cop, you (messed) with the wrong one. You'll get yourself in so much trouble."
The witnesses' accounts of what happened (three bar employees and one patron) were essentially the same but some of the wording was slightly different. Two of the bar employees told police that when Ashton had Leyba against the bar, a patron said to Ashton, "That's enough; you've gone too far," the report said.
To which Ashton allegedly replied, "You want some of this?" Ashton said when a customer tried to get involved in the altercation, he told the man to "back off," the reports said.
After Ashton moved Leyba to the pool table, a woman came into the bar to take Eric Leyba home and several people helped separate the two, the reports said. Ashton and Love called police and reported the incident, as did someone in the bar, the reports said.
Ashton is the only one who was charged in the fight, and he's not been arrested in the incident. He's still working as an adult probation and parole agent, according to Correction spokesman Jack Ford.
"He reported it to his supervisor the day of or day after it happened, and we investigated it," Ford said. He pointed out that the case was reviewed by the Salt Lake District Attorney's Office, which declined to file charges.
The battery charge was filed by the Salt Lake City prosecutor's office, which handles misdemeanor cases.
Ford declined further comment, saying the incident was still under investigation.