Actor Emile Hirsch pleads guilty to assault on studio exec

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Actor Emile Hirsch began serving 15 days in a Utah jail Monday after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault for putting a female studio executive in a chokehold and body-slamming her at a nightclub during the Sundance Film Festival

The "Into the Wild" star told a judge he was sorry and was learning to take responsibility for his actions, saying he has no excuse for what happened Jan. 25 at Tao Nightclub in Park City. But the victim said Hirsch's punishment should have been tougher.

Hirsch was intoxicated and taking medications when he dragged the woman across a table, according to police and prosecutors.

"I know it was completely wrong and reckless and irresponsible," said Hirsch, 30, who wore jeans, a sport coat and tie to court. "I have no excuses for not remembering. I put those chemicals inside me."

Hirsch's deal with prosecutors also calls for a $4,750 fine and 50 hours of community service. In exchange, a more serious felony assault charge was dropped and the misdemeanor will be dismissed if he completes his sentence.

Daniele Bernfeld, an executive for the Paramount Pictures subsidiary Insurge Pictures, said in a statement read in court that the violent and unprovoked attack has caused long-lasting effects beyond physical injuries.

"It took two people to pull him off me, and if not for their intervention, the attack would have continued," she said. "I thought I was going to die."

She said authorities treated her with respect and dignity, but she's disappointed that prosecutors agreed to a deal that meets the bare minimum.

"If a violent attack in front of a roomful of witnesses can be labeled a misdemeanor and dismissed, what of women who are assaulted while alone in hallways or bathrooms, or behind the closed doors of their own homes?" Bernfeld said in a statement sent by Los Angeles attorney Don Etra.

Defending the deal, Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder noted that Hirsch has accepted responsibility, shown remorse and went to rehab in Utah immediately after the incident. The prosecutor said he will ensure Hirsch, of Encino, California, serves the full 15 days in jail and that his community service is meaningful.

Hilder said of Bernfeld's complaints: "That was a terrifying experience. I don't think we could have given enough jail to satisfy her."

Hilder, a former state judge, said he thinks the jail time will affect Hirsch.

"I don't how many of you good gentleman have spent 15 days in jail, but 15 minutes is too much for me. I think he will learn from that," the prosecutor said.

What motivated Hirsch to attack Bernfeld that night remains unclear. The actor said in court that he still doesn't remember what happened but took responsibility for drinking an enormous amount of alcohol and putting himself in that position. He also was taking medications, Hilder said, but didn't reveal what kind.

State Judge Kara Pettit agreed that there were no excuses for the attack but credited Hirsch for going to rehab, staying sober and offering what she considered a sincere apology. She noted he had no previous history of violent or criminal behavior.

She said he would serve one year in jail if he doesn't complete all the stipulations of the deal.

The prosecutor acknowledged that he's troubled he does not know what motivated Hirsch in the "shocking" attack.

Hirsch was at Sundance for the premiere of the drama "Ten Thousand Saints." He is best known for his starring role in "Into the Wild" and has also appeared in "The Girl Next Door," ''Milk," and Universal's Navy SEAL drama "Lone Survivor," Peter Berg's account of a disastrous 2005 military operation in Afghanistan.

As part of the deal, Hirsch was ordered not to drink alcohol or use drugs. He told the judge he will continue going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Hirsch, who has a young son, said he's grown up after going to rehab, learning the importance of "not just saying I'm sorry, but letting my actions line up with my words."