PORTLAND — A Scarborough man who is accused of beating a woman unconscious says he didn’t do it, but he refused to say what he was doing on Montgomery Street in Portland at 3 a.m. Thursday.

In an interview in the maximum-security area of the Cumberland County Jail, Eric Gwaro, 28, said he is not a bad person. He is married, has two children and works as a call firefighter for the Scarborough Fire Department, which means he gets paid per call out.

“I am an upstanding citizen,” he said. “I thought I was doing the right thing. Apparently I’m the person they were looking for.”

Police were called to Montgomery Street at 3 a.m. and found the 25-year-old woman lying in the street, unconscious and badly injured.

Witnesses who had heard a fight and called police pointed to where Gwaro was hiding, in a hedge between Montgomery Street and nearby Peppermint Park. When officers approached, he yelled “Stop” and then vaulted a fence, police said.

Officers caught up to him in the park, off Cumberland Avenue near Washington Avenue. He told them he had been chasing the man who committed the assault.

Police don’t believe him, and said they found evidence from Gwaro that links him to the assault, said Lt. Scott Pelletier.

One of his friends, Eric Goldberg, said he believes Gwaro’s story because he knows the man.

“I could literally vouch for him, and everyone who works with him would vouch for him, as the nicest person, that he would never do that,” Goldberg said.

He said he worked with Gwaro for about a year and a half at the Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, where Gwaro has worked as a bartender.

Police still don’t know what, if any, relationship there was between Gwaro and the victim. She is familiar to police and has worked as a prostitute, police said. She remained unconscious Thursday.

Gwaro’s Facebook page says he graduated from William Paterson University in New Jersey in 2007 and started working at the Inn by the Sea as a bartender in 2010. He said he moved to Maine for his wife’s job.

Gwaro started working as a call firefighter in Scarborough in May. As a rookie call firefighter, Gwaro has been paid $9.41 an hour, said Fire Chief Michael Thurlow.

Thurlow said the department does background checks on applicants and checks their references, and Gwaro came up as “the kind of guy we’re looking for — married, settled down.”

As soon as the department learned of the arrest, Thurlow said, it put Gwaro on unpaid leave.

“I really don’t know the guy that well,” Thurlow said.

Police charged Gwaro with aggravated assault, a felony punishable by as much as 10 years in prison. The woman was expected to survive. She suffered injuries to her face and a skull fracture. Police said they do not believe that a weapon was used.

Police said they had contact with Gwaro just 40 minutes before the attack. A witness reported that someone urinated on a wall at the Preble Street Resource Center around 2:20 a.m., got into a maroon Ford Freestyle SUV and drove away.

Police stopped the driver at Cumberland and Cottage streets and interviewed Gwaro. They determined that he did not appear drunk and that his shirt did not match the description given by the witness.

He was released. Police said they later learned that Gwaro had turned his shirt inside out.

Based on information from their interview with Gwaro, police found his car on Washington Avenue after his arrest. It has been impounded pending a search warrant, Pelletier said.

Asked why he was in Portland before dawn Thursday, Gwaro refused to elaborate in the interview at the jail.

“I can’t really discuss my case,” he said. “Right now my first job is to really get out of here.”

Gwaro was released on $10,000 cash bail pending a future court appearance.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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