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March 20, 2013

Decision to fire Peru cop overturned

PERU — A Cass County judge Monday reversed a decision by Peru officials to fire a police officer who last year Tased a nursing home resident with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Peru Board of Works terminated officer Gregory Martin in August after determining he used excessive force against 64-year-old James Howard, a resident at Miller’s Merry Manor Nursing Home in Peru who has advanced-stage Alzheimer’s.

Martin deployed a Taser on Howard for 31 seconds in a 65-second period in June after officers and nursing home employees said Howard was combative and wouldn’t obey commands to enter an ambulance to go to the hospital.

The board determined Howard wasn’t a threat, and Martin deployed his Taser longer than was necessary.

Martin filed an appeal to the decision in September.

Superior Court II Judge Rick Maughmer ruled Monday to reverse the decision. He said in a written order there was no evidence to support the board’s finding that Martin used more force than was necessary under the circumstances.

Maughmer said Martin utilized the Taser in an effort to minimize injury to Howard, and followed police policy that determines the use of a Taser.

City Attorney Bill Berkshire said the city will appeal the decision in a state court.

It was unclear Tuesday, however, whether Martin would be reinstated as an officer in the Peru Police Department.

Berkshire said Martin should remain terminated until the city’s appeal is filed and receives a court ruling.

But Martin’s attorney, Kristina Lynn, said the reversed decision means he should be immediately reinstated and receive back wages accrued since he was fired in August.

“I believe the city should respect this decision unless there’s an order saying otherwise from a higher court,” she said Tuesday.

If the city doesn’t reinstate Martin, Lynn said she may request an order from Judge Maughmer requiring the city to do so.

After the Tasing incident in June, Howard’s wife, Virginia, sued the city, claiming the police department and city were responsible for possible neurological damage to James Howard. She also said she suffered extreme emotional trauma from seeing her husband’s injuries and “having the details of the torturous incident conveyed to her.”

Her attorney, Stephen Gross, said Tuesday the city struck a deal with Virginia Howard last month, but would not discuss details regarding the settlement.

Gross slammed Monday’s ruling, saying “Based on the testimony I heard at the Board of Works hearing, this is one of the most absurd rulings I’ve encountered in my over 40 years practicing law.”

In response to the Tasing incident, Rep. Bill Friend, R-Macy, introduced legislation this year that would require all state law enforcement officers to undergo training dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.

Friend said in an interview in January he was dismayed when he learned of the Taser incident from Howard’s family. He said Howard’s family asked him to create specific legislation for officers dealing with Alzheimer’s patients.

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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