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Marine combat veteran receives second chance with pardon

Governor Tony Evers gives his first State of the State address in Madison, Wisconsin, at the State Capitol building on Jan. 22, 2019. He addressed a joint meeting of the Assembly and the Senate.

Eric Pizer has wanted to help others and do something positive with his life for as long as he can remember.

As a boy, he had hoped to become a police officer.

“Ever since I was a kid, that’s always been the one figure I’ve always looked up to and respected a lot, and I just always thought one day I’d be a police officer,” Pizer said.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps after high school to prepare himself for a law enforcement career and to serve his country. He served two tours during the Iraq War.

But days after returning home in 2004, his goal went sideways. He was charged with felony substantial battery after an altercation outside a bar in Boscobel. He got probation, but that prohibited him from carrying a gun and working as a police officer.

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On Monday, Pizer, 38, got a fresh start. He was among four people pardoned by Gov. Tony Evers—the first pardons issued in Wisconsin in nearly 10 years.

Pizer was 23 at the time of the 2004 incident. He was celebrating his return from deployment with friends when they were joined at the bar by a group of women they had met.

“It was pretty low-key, and we found out later one of them was married, and none of us knew, and none of the girls had said anything, so we didn’t think anything bad was happening,” he said.

The woman’s husband showed up with a friend, and the husband and wife started arguing. The dispute escalated, and the husband’s friend started poking Pizer’s chest and saying he was going to kill Pizer’s friend.

Without thinking, Pizer punched the man in the face, breaking his nose.

“It happened so fast,” Pizer said.

Pizer and the man have since made amends, but Pizer couldn’t follow his dream or possess a firearm until this week. In the meantime, he went to school and earned associate degrees in criminal justice and health science.

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He said he studied criminal justice because he hoped the conviction eventually would be reversed. He worked as a personal trainer but said it’s hard to sustain a career in that field.

Pizer applied for a pardon with the Pardon Advisory Board, which was reinstated by Evers after he was elected governor in 2018. After applying with the help of his lawyer, David Relles, all Pizer could do was wait.

“It was the longest two weeks of these entire 15 years,” he said “… I was still optimistic, but at the same time, everything I’ve been through dealing with this pardon, I kept myself in check a little bit.”

The wait proved worth the stress, and Pizer was notified that his pardon would be granted.

“I was extremely excited,” he said. “I don’t know how to really describe it, but it was a great crowning achievement for something I’ve been trying to do for a long time.”

Relles, Pizer’s lawyer, said the case is a good example of how pardons can be successful.

“I’m a former DA (district attorney) and have been doing criminal defense work for decades in Wisconsin, and I know that sometimes the system can benefit from the opportunity to use a pardon,” he said.

Relles said other avenues created in recent years, such as veterans court and legislation expanding expungement, weren’t available 15 years ago.

Thanks to the pardon, the 2004 incident is no longer a concern.

“In the past, people who were given pardons went on to do fabulous things. They changed their own lives, changed the lives of their family and changed the community,” Relles said.

“When you give deserving people a second chance, it’s amazing what they can do in their community.”

Pizer plans to apply for jobs at local police departments in hopes of getting his dream job. While there are no guarantees, he’s happy to finally have a shot.

“All I’ve been asking for this entire time is a chance. I don’t want anything to be handed to me … that’s what these whole 15 years have been about,” he said. “I just wanted the chance to go after this career I’ve always wanted.”

That second chance begins now.

“I told them that if I was given a second chance, they would not regret it—that I would spend the rest of my life serving the state of Wisconsin and doing whatever it takes to make the place I live a better place.”

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© 2019 The Janesville Gazette