By Alex Tresniowski
September 01, 1997 12:00 PM

ELIZABETH INDIG WAS SOUND asleep around 7:30 a.m. when, she recalls, she was awakened by “thumping and banging.” Then came “screaming and yelling and cussing” as Los Angeles police officers struggled to subdue a man in the stairwell outside her door at L’Elysee, the posh apartment complex she manages on Westwood’s Wilshire Boulevard. Finally she heard more screaming as the man was dragged away. “He basically went ballistic,” says Indig, 36. “It sounded like a free-floating rage.”

It wasn’t free-floating; it belonged to Christian Slater, whose Aug. 11 brawl has landed the trouble-prone actor in his hottest water yet. In the latest example of a trend no one wants to believe—Celebrities Who Bite—Slater allegedly sank his teeth into the chest of Jacques Petersen, the man who rents the apartment where the fracas began. Slater was rendered unconscious when police used a control hold to subdue him and then arrested him on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, presumably his incisors.

According to a police report, the Broken Arrow star—who admitted to officers that he had been drinking heavily for days—also allegedly roughed up his girlfriend, fashion editor Michelle Jonas, assaulted a maintenance man and tried to grab a gun from one of the arresting officers. He was released on $50,000 bail and, says his younger brother Ryan, quickly checked himself into an undisclosed rehab clinic. “He’s really embarrassed about what he’s done,” says Ryan, 14. “He knows he’s done wrong, and he’s entered rehabilitation at his own will.”

Of course that didn’t stop Jay Leno from joking about a nightmare he had in which he was “naked, covered in A-l sauce, and Mike Tyson, Marv Albert and Christian Slater were coming for dinner.” But Slater’s rampage was no laughing matter: A police report said that Slater admitted he was high on cocaine and alcohol, and his blood alcohol level tested at 0.24 percent, well above the 0.08 that is California’s legal limit for drivers. It’s clear that Slater, who celebrated his 28th birthday in rehab on Aug. 18, had been on a dangerous drinking binge. Said one of Slater’s close associates: “This kid is hurting right now.”

Right now and once again. In 1989, Slater kicked an L.A. officer in the head while resisting arrest after slamming his Saab into a telephone pole. He was convicted of drunk driving, his second such offense, and spent 10 days in jail. This time, as a multiple offender, Slater could be in much bigger trouble. If the district attorney’s office decides to charge him with felony assault with a deadly weapon at his scheduled Sept. 2 arraignment, and Slater is convicted, he could face a prison stretch measured in years.

For a while friends believed the actor had his drinking problem under control. “He was a Perrier man,” says a regular at Scores, a tony New York City strip club, who often saw Slater there this year. But several days before his arrest, Slater was spotted drinking tequila at the club. “When someone starts downing straight shots,” says the regular, “people notice.”

On the night of Aug. 10, Slater was hanging out with Jonas, 29, at the apartment of Petersen, 31, and Petersen’s girlfriend Petra Brando, 25, a law student and Marlon Brando’s adopted daughter. Petersen, whom Slater knew through Jonas, is said to live on a trust fund and is known for throwing noisy parties. The foursome got so loud that night that Petersen’s upstairs neighbor, nurse Stacy Conner, 24, had her husband go down to complain around 3:00 a.m. When he banged on their door, recalls Conner, “He heard them say, ‘Was that an earthquake?’ ” Then things got worse. According to the police report, a drunken Slater punched Jonas during an argument, and when Petersen tried to intervene, Slater bit him in the rib cage. Hearing the commotion, the awakened Indig summoned maintenance man Jose Luis Castro by walkie-talkie and asked him to check things out. When Castro reported that a man was screaming in the hallway, Indig dialed 911.

Ten minutes later, Slater was cornered by two police officers and Castro in the stairwell just outside Indig’s eighth-floor apartment. Still, he wouldn’t surrender. “He’s not a big guy,” says Indig, “but it was like he had Superman strength.” Slater kicked Castro in the stomach (the maintenance man has hired an attorney) before the arresting officers managed to shackle his arms and legs. “He was groaning, and he looked really crazy,” says a building employee who saw Slater facedown on the lobby floor as police prepared to take him away. “I thought he was a homeless person.”

Not exactly: Slater reportedly earns $5 to $6 million per movie. Raised by showbiz parents—Michael Gainsborough, a stage and soap actor, and casting director Mary Jo Slater—Christian made his feature film debut in 1985’s The Legend of Billie Jean before being cast alongside Sean Connery in 1986’s The Name of the Rose. It was while filming Rose in Europe that Slater, only 16, started drinking heavily. “He had a lot more freedom than most kids his age,” Mary Jo told PEOPLE in 1996. “He had chances to experiment when I was unaware that he was experimenting.” Slater himself admitted to Playboy in 1994 that “alcohol and coke were really perfection for me—that was a good little chemistry set I had going.” He added, “I’m sure I turned over several coffee tables in my day.”

Despite the upended furniture, Slater’s career took off. He made a splash as a snarky psychopath with a Jack Nicholson accent in the 1989 cult hit Heathers, then starred in major movies like True Romance and Robin Hood. Along the way he developed a reputation for romancing costars like Winona Ryder and Patricia Arquette. But as his credits piled up, so did the incidents. In 1994, for instance, Slater spent a night in jail after authorities found an unlicensed handgun in his carry-on luggage at New York City’s Kennedy Airport.

None of his close encounters seemed to affect Slater. “I’m still a reckless bastard,” he told the Allen-town, Pa., Morning Call last year. “That’s me—the unleashed one.” As to what unleashed Slater’s most recent slide, some speculate that the actor was depressed over the kind of roles he’s been offered lately. Last week, in E! Online, Hollywood columnist Ted Casablanca quoted a Slater friend, who said, “He longs for the days when he starred in movies like True Romance, and he really can’t stand this action stuff like Broken Arrow.” Next up for Slater: a big-budget disaster picture, Hard Rain, due in 1998, a Victorian era romance called Basil, and the upcoming independent movie Julian Po—which Slater did for a minimal salary, possibly as a way to assert his acting prowess again.

Last year, Slater’s mother lamented the pressure on young stars like Robert Downey Jr. and the late River Phoenix. “These kids are afraid they’re going to be yesterday’s news,” she told PEOPLE. Hopefully, Slater’s latest headlines will force him to live up to his brother’s admiration. Says the younger Slater, who sent Christian a birthday card at the rehab clinic: “He told me the other day ‘Ryan, I have to quit.’ And that made me really proud.”