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Firing of officer who stunned nursing home patient was supported by evidence

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A police chief and city review board were within their rights to terminate the employment of an officer who repeatedly used a Taser on a 64-year-old nursing home patient. An appellate panel Monday reversed a trial court order that had thrown out the officer’s firing.

Peru Police Chief Steve Hoover recommended dismissal of Officer Gregory Martin for excessive use of force against James Howard, a resident of the Alzheimer’s ward of Miller’s Merry Manor. The city’s Board of Works and Public Safety conducted a hearing and agreed Martin used excessive force and was fired.

Police had been called to the nursing home to assist transporting a patient to the hospital after he became combative toward a roommate and staff, but staff testified Howard had been medicated and somewhat subdued when police arrived. Howard was sitting naked in a chair and staring straight ahead when Martin and another officer arrived, according to the opinion in Peru City Police Department and City of Peru v. Gregory Martin,  52A02-1304-PL-350.

Nursing home staff believed Howard could have been controlled without the use of a Taser, but officers and paramedics, including Martin’s fiancée, disagreed, according to the record. Officer Jeremy Brindle, who accompanied Martin, conceded that he and Martin likely could have gained control over Howard had each grabbed a wrist.

But when Brindle attempted to grab one of Howard’s wrists, he resisted and began “shuffling” toward Martin, who yelled “Taser.” Martin used the Taser device on Howard five times, according to the Taser’s data printout. The record indicates that Howard was exposed to 31 seconds of Taser force in one minute with five separate deployments lasting five to 11 seconds each.

“Chief Hoover recommended Martin’s dismissal due to his opinion that Martin had used excessive force and due to alleged inconsistencies between Martin’s initial report and his statements during the internal investigation,” Judge Mark Bailey wrote for the panel, noting a report said no “touch stuns” were administered.

Martin appealed, and the trial court threw out his firing. Miami Superior Special Judge Richard Maughmer entered more than 100 “reasons that the decision should not be affirmed,” finding the termination unsupported by the evidence and the firing arbitrary and capricious.

But the panel found that the trial court erred in substituting its judgment for that of the city police chief and board and that it disregarded ample evidence that supported the firing for cause. The panel focused on training Martin received that limits someone’s exposure to Taser force, which can be deadly when used for extended periods or in repeated bursts in which the subject isn’t allowed time to comply.  

“Although greater (cumulative) duration than 15 seconds is not absolutely prohibited, the training materials repeatedly reference 15 seconds as an important benchmark,” Bailey wrote. “… Here, the benchmark time was more than doubled – in five applications inflicted upon an elderly naked man in a nursing home, imminently destined for a hospital. Intervals to achieve compliance were very short, with only a two-second interval between the third and fourth deployments. Moreover, it is noteworthy that Howard was handcuffed after the third Taser application.

“In sum, there is substantial evidence supporting the Board’s decision. … The trial court disregarded evidence favorable to that decision, credited the testimony of witnesses that the trial court did not personally hear, and misstated evidence regarding the scope of Martin’s training,” Bailey wrote. “In short, the trial court reweighed the evidence and reassessed the credibility of witnesses. Substantial evidence supports the Board’s findings, and its decision to terminate Martin for use of excessive force and conduct unbecoming an officer was not arbitrary and capricious.”

 

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  • Katie bar the door!
    Someone has not been paying attention to the comments here. Katie, you cannot say such things about an Indiana judge! Do you want to end up in Room 101 with Paul Ogden?
  • Mistakes
    There are 22 mistakes/inconsistencies in this decision. The biggest inconsistency Judge Bailey errored on is the fact the Mr. Howard was Never handcuffed while tased. Not one person testified to this. Mr. Howard was never tased after handcuffs were applied due to he was restrained at that point in time. Second largest error is Judge Bailey states that Mr. Howard "shuffled" toward police. Testimony proves that Mr. Howard violently attempted to kick, hit and bite all individuals that came into contact with him. This entire order needs to be reviewed with correct information.

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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