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Cops call it battery, Port Richey man says it's self-defense

PORT RICHEY — A few hours after he bailed himself out of jail, Jeffrey Crouch stood in his front yard Thursday afternoon to tell his side of the story. Again.

This time — on his 15th arrest — he was in on a felony battery charge. But Crouch has been telling his side of the story for more than 20 years. No one listens, he said. He's been called notorious. Infamous. A Houdini who was a suspect in two murders but was never convicted. A judge tossed his alleged confession in his wife's 1987 murder, and he was never charged in the 1998 death of his 20-month-old son, who died from a skull-breaking blow.

His other arrests have been charges of shoplifting, driving a boat while drunk and battery — most against his girlfriend of 11 years, Melissa Ann Uhr. She blamed herself in two trials and didn't show up for the third.

Crouch, 54, has never served time in prison. Jail, though, he's familiar with.

"I'm getting kind of used to it," Crouch said.

This latest incident happened Sunday night. The Port Richey Police Department says Crouch beat up a homeless man who came to his house at 5701 Regis Ave. to deliver a Christmas card and to retrieve some belongings. Officers say Crouch pummeled and kicked the man in the face, breaking his nose, injuring his back and sending him to the hospital.

Crouch was arrested Wednesday night. He is charged with felony battery and was released Thursday on $5,000 bail.

He says the cops have it all wrong.

"It wasn't just a homeless person delivering a Christmas card," Crouch said, shaking his head.

He said the victim is a transient named Pauly who lives in a tent in the woods but hangs out at Crouch's house all the time. Crouch said he had a bunch of people over to watch a football game Sunday night and, after it was over, he asked them to leave.

"Time to break up the party," he said.

But then a big guy named Mike wouldn't get up out of Crouch's recliner. Crouch told them all again to leave. Party's over.

"But that big guy would not get out of my recliner," he said.

Then Pauly stepped in, Crouch said. Pauly is a little guy, he said, who normally only drinks beer. But this night, he drank a half gallon of vodka.

"I knew something bad was going to happen," said Mark Benjamin, Crouch's friend who was at the party. He sticks to beer himself. "If I even smell vodka, I'm going to jail."

So, Crouch said he was trying to get Big Mike and Little Pauly out of his house and off his property. The big guy left, he said. But Pauly stayed. He said Pauly stumbled backward and hit his head on a concrete block.

"Come inside, sit down and let me get you a cold beer," Crouch said he told him, after Pauly's tumble.

"But he kept challenging me," Crouch said.

So he beat him up — in self-defense, he says.

"I did," he said. "I'm not going to deny it.

"I felt threatened and I ended that threat."

Then, he said, he called 911.

Crouch said he and Benjamin went to the hospital Wednesday to pick up Pauly, who didn't remember what happened. But, because of the extent of Pauly's injuries, Crouch was arrested late Wednesday night. Benjamin said Pauly had three staples in his head and a scratch on his nose, and that he stayed the night at Crouch's house Wednesday and was there drinking beer Thursday morning while Crouch was in jail.

"He doesn't want to press charges," Benjamin said.

Crouch said he'll never shake the suspicion people have of him. Sure, he has some anger issues, he said.

"I'm not the big bad guy," he said.

Times researcher Will Gorham contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Cops call it battery, Port Richey man says it's self-defense 12/10/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 10, 2009 9:00pm]
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