Bay City, MI (March 7, 2018) BTN — In a quiet courtroom, a prosecutor played video footage of a bar patron being punched by another customer, then stomped by two men. According to witnesses, the beatdown was perpetrated by two bikers who were vexed over a photo the assaulted man had reportedly taken.
And to hear the victim tell it, he hadn't even taken a photo in the first place.
Such was the testimony during the March 6 preliminary examination of Eric J. Kerkau, 46, and Arthur R. Miller, 33, both charged with a 10-year felony count of assault with intent to cause great bodily harm.
Eric Kerkau (L) and Arthur Miller (R)
Ashley Schwartz, the first witness called by Bay County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas, testified she had been bartending at the Whyte Goose Inn, 108 State St., the early morning of Dec. 27. About 1 a.m., an argument broke out between Scott M. Peterson, 49, and Kerkau and Miller regarding a photo Peterson had supposedly taken, Schwartz said.
"One gentlemen stood up, took his coat off, and tried to initiate a fight," Schwartz said, identifying this man as Miller. "I tried to stop it. The gentlemen that tried to initiate a fight tried to get Scott to come outside and fight him, but he would not go. The other gentleman (Kerkau) who was still in the bar ... took a few steps back and just sucker-punched (Peterson). It just proceeded from there."
Schwartz said Miller came back inside and joined Kerkau in punching and kicking Peterson.
"There was so much chaos at the time, it was hard to tell how many times he was hit," she said. As the assault occurred, Schwartz called 911.
Cross-examined by defense attorneys Matthew Boucher and Brian Jean, Schwartz said Peterson had been sitting at the bar with his girlfriend, playing with his phone. She didn't notice if he had taken a photo of Kerkau or Miller or not, she said.
During the dispute with Peterson, Miller had made comments about being "black and white" and that "nobody needs to have any black and white on their phones," Schwartz said.
Jean asked Schwartz why she told Bay County Central Dispatch that Peterson was being assaulted by members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. She replied that she wanted responding police to be aware of who the assailants were in case they had weapons on them.
"It's just from working in bars and experiences with other fights with different biker groups, it's common for some of them to have weapons," Schwartz said.
Called to the stand after Schwartz, Peterson said he and his girlfriend had gone to the Whyte Goose after having dinner on Midland Street and a drink at Stables Martini & Cigar Bar, 804 E. Midland St. They arrived at the Whyte Goose between 11:30 p.m. and midnight, he said. He said he did not know Kerkau or Miller.
Miller and Kerkau were already at the Whyte Goose when Peterson arrived, he said. He wasn't there long before Miller and Kerkau confronted him, he said.
"They were accusing me of having pictures of them on my phone," he said. "Miller was trying to get me to come outside with him. I didn't know what the heck they were talking about. I refused to go outside with him."
Peterson denied having any photos of Miller or Kerkau on his phone.
Peterson and his girlfriend sat at the bar, with Kerkau sitting nearby. A short while later, Kerkau again accused Peterson of having photos of him on his phone, he said.
"Before I knew it, I got blasted in the back of the head by Eric," Peterson said. "He hit me once that I know of. I turned around towards him and then I got clocked in the side of the head by Arthur. Then we got all tangled up and I went down to the ground and they were hitting me and kicking me. I was just trying to cover up at that point."
Peterson sustained injuries to his shoulder, knee and ribs. He suffered a slightly detached retina in his right eye, which has required two laser surgeries. He also required six staples to mend a wound in the back of his scalp, he said.
Under cross-examination, Peterson said he had two IPA beers with dinner, one at Stables, and half of one at the Whyte Goose. He said he was not feeling intoxicated.
Asked by Jean if he had seen Kerkau and Miller at Stables, Peterson said he hadn't noticed them there. He added he had left Stables due to police arriving there to deal with some issue, and that he's not a fan of police.
Jean then asked him about his prior convictions on larceny-related charges and if he considers himself an honest man. Peterson replied that he does consider himself honest.
Since the Whyte Goose incident, Peterson in January was charged with a misdemeanor count of domestic violence.
Jean asked him to describe the injuries he sustained.
"Senseless and severe," Peterson replied. "It's ridiculous what happened, I'll tell you that."
Bay City Public Safety Officer Todd Armstrong testified that when he arrived at the bar, Peterson was lying on the floor. In the course of his investigation, Armstrong obtained the bar's surveillance camera footage of the incident, which Assistant Prosecutor Hausmann played in the hearing.
The silent footage shows Peterson standing at the bar, only to punched by another man. The first assailant is then joined by another man and the pair proceed to beat Peterson as other patrons try breaking up the assault.
After the video ended, Hausmann asked Armstrong what it means to him when a man describes himself as "black and white." The officer replied that based on his training and experience, he would assume that man would be associated with the Outlaws.
Armstrong added he recovered a necklace at scene bearing a Black Pistons medallion. The Black Pistons is a support club of the Outlaws. Armstrong added that Kerkau's Facebook page featured references to his "black and white brothers."
Questioned by the defense, Armstrong said he was unaware if police searched Peterson's phone to see if he had or had not taken photos of Miller or Kerkau.
After Armstrong testified, Hausmann asked Bay County District Judge Timothy J. Kelly to allow him to add a 20-year charge of gang membership to each defendant's case. Boucher and Jean objected to this and Kelly ended up siding with them.
Kelly did, however, bind both men's cases over to Circuit Court for trial. Kerkau and Miller are free on bond.
The Outlaws Motorcycle Club was established in 1935 in McCook, Illinois. Since then, it has expanded to 28 countries. It has four Michigan chapters, including one in Bay City. In 2006, five members of the Bay City chapter were involved in a shootout with the Hell's Angels in South Dakota.
Through its website, the club is adamant that it is not a criminal organization.
"We may not live by the rules of society, but we do live by its laws," the site states.