Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden was charged Wednesday with misdemeanor disorderly conduct-domestic abuse following a fight with his girlfriend.
Walden did not appear for a Brown County Circuit Court hearing and defense attorney Steve Richards entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. Walden remains free on bond and is due back in court Dec. 27.
After Wednesday's practice, coach Mike McCarthy said Walden will retain his spot in the starting lineup for Sunday's game against Oakland.
If convicted, Walden would face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. County District Attorney John Zakowski acknowledged the possibility of a plea bargain agreement that would spare Walden from serving additional jail time.
Richards noted that the charge Walden faces is less severe than what he was arrested for last month, suspicion of felony domestic violence-substantial battery.
"It's clear, I think, at least from the district attorney's perspective, the initial charge that jailed Mr. Walden was probably inappropriate," Richards said. "Now that they've looked at it, I think they feel that something occurred, but what it is amounts to no more than a disorderly conduct."
Walden was arrested after a Nov. 25 dispute with his live-in girlfriend, identified in the complaint as Erika T. Palmer.
"He was going to Georgia to visit his mother," Richards said. "He's having his jersey retired at his old high school, but he was leaving his girlfriend and the two children behind. She was upset with that, and there was an apparent argument over that, and then one thing led to another. And I think the injury sustained by Ms. Palmer was an accident, and that's pretty much confirmed by both parties."
Richards said there is a no-contact order in place between Walden and his girlfriend.
According to the complaint, Palmer originally told police that Walden pushed her, causing her to fall and hit a bed post and cut her forehead. Palmer said she then attempted to punch Walden in self-defense.
The complaint says that once Palmer found out Walden would be arrested, she began to change her story to say instead that she provoked Walden.
Zakowski said they consider Walden the "primary physical aggressor" in the incident, based on Palmer's original story to police, emergency room staff and her 911 call.
"We don't know exactly what, blow by blow, transpired," Zakowski said. "It was reported by her as a fight, but that he pushed her. And originally, her statement is that he pushed her, and she swung back to defend herself. In that context, it appears to us that he was the primary physical aggressor."
Zakowski said he has encouraged Palmer to tell the truth if called as a witness.
"That isn't unlike many other domestic violence cases where a victim later just wants it to all go away and doesn't want to get involved," Zakowski said. "It's our intention that if it gets to that point, like any other case, you subpoena the witness and you instruct her to testify truthfully. And if somebody doesn't want to do that, or fails to do that, then you look at prior statements and prior evidence as a way to get that information before a jury."
Despite Walden's profile as a Packers player, Zakowski said the case would be treated the same as any other. Zakowski said someone facing their first domestic abuse charge would typically be offered a deal that includes a guilty plea, anger management counselling and possibly community service but not additional jail time.
"Mr. Walden's already sat a number of days in jail," Zakowski said. "Given those facts, if this was Joe Blow on the street, that's what we would normally be seeing."
Walden spent the weekend after Thanksgiving in jail after his arrest. He made a public apology to the Packers, his teammates and fans after he was released.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Walden's situation is "under review" by the team and the NFL. Walden played in last Sunday's game against the Giants in New York.