WARREN, OHIO---When teenage boys got caught speeding or running a stop sign in one town in northeast Ohio, instead of turning the traffic ticket over to the court for adjudication, former Fowler police Chief James Martin referred the youthful offenders to his unauthorized diversion program and spanked them, effectively circumventing the judicial process.
Martin was convicted last year on 12 counts of using a sham legal process and six counts of dereliction of duty but the 11th Ohio District Court of Appeals has overturned all but one of the misdemeanor convictions and returned the case to the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court where the ex-police chief will be resentenced on a single misdemeanor count of dereliction of duty.
He had been sentenced to two years probation and fined $500 on the charges as well as ordered to perform 120 hours of community service which he has already completed. He was sentenced to six months in jail but it wasn't specified for what charge which must now be clarified with 17 of the convictions being reversed.
The dereliction of duty charge stemmed from Martin keeping records of the unauthorized spanking program at his home but the appeals court held that he wasn't keeping records from the public because the program hadn't been authorized and records weren't required.
Martin had been tried at jury trial in February 2005 for administering corporal punishment to teen drivers and young men who agreed to be spanked rather than have their cases heard in court.
The officer was acquitted of 11 of 12 charges of assault brought against him with the jury deadlocked on the 12th count. He had also been found not guilty of the single felony count, theft in office for allegedly stealing the files of the diversion program from the town.
He had originally been indicted on 52 counts but 16 of those charges were dropped pre-trial including seven counts of unauthorized photography.
In one case, the mother of a 16-year-old boy agreed to allow her son to be paddled but when seeing the welts that he suffered during the first session, she refused to allow him to return for 14 more sessions that Martin had dictated. Participation in the unauthorized juvenile diversion program conducted by Martin was supposed to make speeding tickets "go away". In the case of the 16-year-old, he was sentenced by Martin to 15 spanking sessions and ordered to follow 23 "rules". At the first session held at the police station, the boy was struck on the bare buttocks three times with a wooden paddle.
[NOTE: The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on 1/28/05 that videos of some of these paddlings were found in Martin's bedroom, labeled "Swat Train."]
Another "violator" was paddled five times once a week for three months. The mother filed a $200,000 lawsuit in federal court against Martin and three town trustees.
Martin had faced disciplinary charges over 10 years ago for paddling 20 minors for various infractions. [SEE: www.sconet.state.oh.us/rod/newpdf/11/2006/2006-ohio-6202.pdf]
In its decision, the appellate court said that if a juvenile was cited for speeding and Martin determined that the juvenile would benefit from the structure and discipline of his program, he would meet with the juvenile's parents and obtain their consent to their child being admitted to the unsanctioned program. The program would be explained to them in terms of the rules to be obeyed by the juvenile and the punishment and other sanctions to be administered.
The sanctions might include community service obligations in Howland Township, such as washing fire engines for the township. Typically, the punishment would consist of a certain number of "swats", that is, paddling the juveniles. The number of "swats" would depend on the severity of the offense. The "swats" were administered at the regular weekly appointment when the juvenile would report to appellant on his law-abiding activities and progress in school. However, if the juvenile broke the rules while a participant in the program, he might receive additional "swats." In all events, appellant was the sole arbiter of a juvenile's eligibility for his diversion program, as well as the extent and severity of the punishment and sanctions to be administered.
This aspect of corporal punishment was brought to the attention of the Trumbull County Children Services Board in 1992. A parent of one of the juveniles complained about the "swats." The Board investigated the matter for child abuse and concluded that child abuse was not substantiated. It also recommended that the "swats" stop immediately, though appellant ignored this recommendation.
In February 1993, soon after a new police chief was installed for Howland Township, Martin was ordered by the new chief to terminate his juvenile diversion program, and he complied.
In 1997, while still continuing as a police officer in Howland Township, Martin was hired as the part-time police chief in Fowler Township. He decided to restart his juvenile diversion program in Fowler Township. However, his program managed juveniles from both Howland and Fowler Townships in the Fowler Township premises.
In the meantime, Howland Township had started its own officially sanctioned diversion program that was approved by the trustees and administered by a diversion officer. In addition, during this time the Trumbull County Juvenile Court also operated its own diversion program, but Martin did not participate in the juvenile court's program.
© 2006 North Country Gazette
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