California Highway Patrol Officer Craig Alan Peyer, who was suspended without pay after his arrest on charges that he murdered a San Diego State University student, is drawing his $33,000-a-year salary again and has received back pay for the 15 days that he was suspended, CHP officials said Wednesday.
Peyer, a 13-year CHP veteran, was arrested Jan. 15 and charged with strangling Cara Evelyn Knott, 20, after pulling her over the night of Dec. 27 near an isolated Interstate 15 off-ramp. Her body was thrown off a 75-foot-high bridge. Peyer, 36, is being held in County Jail on bail of $1 million.
"The inference that we could've fired him and we didn't is not accurate. We are bound by two things," said Assistant CHP Chief Edward Gomez, who is Peyer's superior. "First, we have to let the criminal matter continue. Second, we have to follow the law that says that, if he is not terminated within 15 days of his suspension, he's automatically placed back on the payroll. But this doesn't mean that we will not be taking administrative action against him. We're conducting our own investigation of Officer Peyer."
According to Steve Kohler, a CHP spokesman in Sacramento, Peyer has not been fired because CHP officials are still conducting an internal investigation of Peyer and the charges against him. Until that probe is completed, Kohler said, CHP officials have no choice but to revert Peyer to pay status and give him back pay for the 15-day suspension.
"We are conducting our own internal investigation. Depending on the outcome, we might terminate his employment with the CHP if the investigation determines that he could be terminated for cause," Kohler said. "But I can't tell you the results of this investigation because the internal affairs people are still working on it."
Kohler and Gomez said they are not sure when the CHP investigation will be completed. Kohler said that CHP officials hope to complete the probe before the beginning of Peyer's trial.
Peyer will return to court Tuesday for a bail review hearing, and on Feb. 24 for a scheduled preliminary hearing. Municipal Judge Herbert J. Exarhos appointed private attorney Robert Grimes on Jan. 20 to defend Peyer, largely because Peyer's family had no income after his suspension.
On Wednesday, Grimes said that he expects to remain court-appointed, with the county picking up most of Peyer's legal fees. Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Van Orshoven said that the CHP's decision to place Peyer back on the payroll "probably will not affect his court-appointed counsel one way or another."
A spokesman for Peyer's wife, Karen, said that a private fund-raising effort launched after Peyer's arrest has collected more than $4,000. Gordon Kerr said that the money is being used for the family's living expenses and not for Peyer's legal fees. The couple has two small children.