Carroll County commissioner candidate Christopher “Eric” Bouchat said he intends to file a request for a pardon from the governor on Monday for two criminal convictions, dating back more than 20 years.
Bouchat, 51, of Woodbine, was convicted of assault and battery in 1984, when he was 16 years old, and second-degree assault in 1997. Both incidents occurred in Howard County.
The Republican candidate for Carroll County commissioner in District 4 is filing the request just prior to the Nov. 6 election, at the same time rumors regarding his criminal past and estranged family relationships have been circulating on social media.
In an interview with the Times, Bouchat said he was incarcerated for 9 months as a juvenile on work release for the former crime, and 60 days for the latter.
Bouchat said he has been working on his application since last year, and recently obtained the last supplemental document he needed to submit the pardon application to the Maryland Parole Commission.
A pardon is when the governor frees someone of guilt for a criminal act and relieves the individual from any penalties of law for those acts. A pardon, however, is not the same of expungement and does not remove an individual’s criminal record from public records.
Pardons can be difficult to obtain. Maryland’s three most recent governors have varied wildly on issuing pardons.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, issued no pardons in his first three years in office, although during his campaign in 2014 indicated an interest in increasing the number of pardons in Maryland. Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, granted 146 pardons from 2008 to 2015, all but 13 in his final three years in office, while rejecting approximately 1,300 applications. Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich granted 228 pardons out of a total of 439 applications from 2004 to 2008.
“I believe that the hardships in life are necessary to make us better people. I have learned that it is better to lead one's life with a moral compass and not follow or keep the company of people who have moral deficits,” Bouchat wrote in the application regarding why he should receive a pardon.
“I am seeking a pardon as it is more reflective of my life choices,” he wrote.
Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, is listed as Bouchat’s top character reference in his pardon application.
“I’ve known Eric for over a decade, probably 16 years," Krebs told the Times Friday. “He's been an upstanding citizen, from my perspective, since then. He was very upfront when he ran last time about his situation years ago.
"He wrote about it in the Times, he wrote a letter to the editor, so to me it was old news. I’ve known him to be nothing but upfront, honest and stable.”
Bouchat is running against Democratic candidate Paul Johnson for a seat on the Board of County Commissioners representing District 4. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
In 1984, Bouchat said he struck the teenage son of a police officer with a tire iron at a party.
“At 16 years of age, I attended a party being held by the 19-year-old victim,” Bouchat wrote in his pardon. “When I appeared, the victim was intoxicated. The victim made threats to harm me. I left the party.
“After peer pressure, I returned to the party and when the victim approached me, I struck him with a tire iron,” he wrote. “I immediately regretted striking the victim. I also regret giving in to peer pressure.”
In an interview with the Times, Bouchat said, “It’s hard to go out and talk about.”
Bouchat has said that the experience does not define him because he was a juvenile, and that he was treated harshly specifically because the victim was the son of a police officer.
In a 1993 Baltimore Sun article about Bouchat’s state Senate campaign in Howard County, Bouchat said he wanted to institute a change of venue for any juvenile accused of a crime involving relatives of someone in a police department or the courts.
“It’s something I hold very dear to my heart from going through it.” Bouchat told the Times recently.
Assault against ex-wife
Bouchat is also requesting a pardon for a second-degree assault conviction stemming from a January 1997 altercation involving his first wife, Carmelita Bouchat, now Carmelita Carothers. Bouchat served 60 days in jail for that conviction, according to his pardon application.
“At 29 years of age, I entered my home and found my wife in bed with a nude man,” wrote Bouchat in his pardon application. “I began yelling at the man and my wife jumped onto my back and knocked me to the ground. The man left the scene.”
Bouchat had not lived in the home for at least 14 months prior, according to the Howard Country police incident report. In an interview with the Times, Bouchat said he was no longer living in the Hanover, Maryland, home at the time of the assault because of his ex-wife’s “erratic” and “violent” behavior.
“I wish upon no one to walk in bed on their spouse with someone else,” he said in an interview with the Times. “Of course there was yelling and an altercation.”
The police report states, “Christopher Bouchat forcibly entered that dwelling and once inside of said dwelling proceeded to assault three occupants of the dwelling,” including his then-wife, her roommate, and another man. Both Carothers and the roommate had visible signs of injury, according to the statement of probable cause, and there was a wooden club and small ax found by police under and behind the driver seat of Bouchat’s car.
”I had contusions on my chest, contusions on my arms, contusions around my breasts,” Carothers told the Times in a recent interview.
Bouchat, however, said the abuse was “the other way around.”
Carothers also filed for assault and battery charges against Bouchat twice in the span of a week in March of 1996, but those were placed on the stet, or inactive, docket, according to electronic court records. Bouchat filed for assault charges against his then-wife that same week, which Howard County prosecutors declined to prosecute. Attorneys also declined to prosecute three separate cases, including battery and theft charges, brought by Bouchat against his then-wife in March of 1994, electronic court records show.
Kevin Ensey, 34, Carothers’ son from a previous marriage and Bouchat’s former stepson, said he remembers witnessing violent scenes between his mother and stepfather regularly growing up.
“That was not my whole childhood, but for a very long period of time that’s what I’d seen in my household: anger, violence and sadness,” Ensey said.
Relationship with his deceased daughter
Bouchat, who has run for other county and state offices in the past and come up short, told the Times in April he decided to run again this year after his daughter, Tawni Bouchat, succumbed to a fentanyl overdose in February 2016. Bouchat has made battling the opioid epidemic the cornerstone of his campaign.
“Now, I want to provide leadership locally to help stop and reverse the death and destruction of opiates in our county,” Bouchat said.
However, Carothers, who is Tawni’s mother, has posted information on social media that calls into question Bouchat’s relationship with his 26-year-old daughter shortly before she died.
In 2014, Bouchat initiated criminal charges against his daughter in Baltimore County for allegedly stealing money from his business, where he had employed her as his bookkeeper.
Tawni Bouchat was found guilty of felony theft scheme of $10,000 to under $100,000 after Bouchat provided documentation that she stole $21,120.72 from his company, Bouchat Industries Inc. Court records show more than 70 transactions over the course of approximately a year where the young Bouchat wrote out checks to herself and various other parties ranging from $50 to $938.12.
Bouchat attributed his daughter embezzling money to a 2014 federal tax lien against him for $42,526.
“Now I have an IRS lien I’m paying off,” Bouchat said. “My daughter was taking money out of my company to support her heroin habit — so I suffer with the fact that I have to keep paying on this lien derived on money that was stolen from me.”
The criminal charges Bouchat filed against his daughter calculated the embezzled money based on discrepancies and forged checks from a 2014 audit only, he said, but his daughter worked for him for six years.
“I didn’t want to go back any further,” he said. “A one-year audit was far back enough. It was painful enough. I had enough information to get her to court. I wanted to get her into the system, to get her charged and get her into the system. I was just trying to save my daughter.”
But the action severed that relationship, according to those close to Tawni Bouchat.
“I will never forget the text message [Bouchat] had sent me telling me that I had so many days to come up with the money [our daughter] took or he would destroy her life forever,” Carothers wrote in a Nov. 13, 2017, Facebook post on her daughter’s memorial page.
“Tawni tried to talk to her father about her addiction,” Carothers wrote, “and he called her names from being a junkie, a b---- or a ‘c--- like your mother,’ he would say. She held onto those words and the letters from him that they were written on. He disowned her for over 2 ½ years and destroyed her as he had stated he would.”
Bouchat maintains that his decision to take his daughter to court was for her own benefit.
“I had a wonderful relationship with my daughter,” he told the Times. “I charged her to get her into treatment.”
And that although their relationship was strained, he said, it was on the mend shortly before her death.
“Yes, some of that is true,” Bouchat said of the messages he sent to his daughter while she was struggling with her addiction.
“But I am so grateful to God that the last three months of my daughter’s life she had that epiphany that I love her and wanted to save her life,” Bouchat said. “There’s so many people who are suffering. That’s why I want to do this campaign.”
In an interview with the Times, Carothers said Bouchat’s interest in the opioid epidemic is a surprise to her, and that he was using their child to strengthen his campaign.
“Our daughter, he didn’t care. He knew Tawni overdosed four times and my [current] husband saved her life four times,” by administering naloxone, she said. “Now when she died all of a sudden he cares. You don't wait for your child to die to take an interest in the opioid epidemic.”
Ensey, Carothers’ son and Bouchat’s former stepson, said he remembered the way his stepsister was treated by Bouchat.
“He just pushed her to the curb,” Ensey told the Times. “He didn’t understand, or he didn’t want to understand. He thought: ‘You could be better. What’s your problem? It’s not a disease: It’s your mind.’
“And he didn’t get that it is your mind, but it is also a disease,” Ensey said. “That, and she stole money from him and it hurt his feelings.”
But Bouchat’s other daughter, Erica Bouchat, 31, said the past is the past, and that much of what happened has pushed her father toward his hopes to battle the opioid epidemic in Carroll County.
“I don’t want his past being put in the paper when he is a total different person,” she told the Times.
“He’s awesome. He’s a very spunky guy, outgoing, caring, loving man,” Erica Bouchat said. “But he’s been through a lot. I do think he’s a great candidate for being county commissioner.”
Baltimore Sun Media Group librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.