PADDLING CASE Ex-chief defends program
Having the teens decide their consequences gave them a 'good vibe,' Martin said.
WARREN -- James Martin said he was given little guidance as Fowler Township's police chief, other than being told by trustees they didn't want a lot of people being arrested or charged.
"It wasn't their thing," Martin testified Monday in his defense for his Trumbull County Common Pleas Court jury trial.
Hired in Fowler in 1997, Martin said he realized that juveniles who had made "bad choices" needed an "in-between step of diversion" rather than juvenile court.
So, he began a diversion program in Fowler similar to one he was told to stop in Howland in 1993 by then-Chief Steve Lamantia.
Howland trustees, Martin recalled, had complained about a Trumbull County Children Services report that alleged excessive force. "I was cleared of any wrongdoing in that," he noted.
Children services, however, had recommended changes if the program continued. With Fowler's program, Martin said he drew up new parental consent forms and other documents.
Not much feedback came from Fowler trustees to their new chief when he'd ask about various things, Martin recalled. "The comment I got most often was, 'We hired you to be the chief -- that's your job.'"
He started the Fowler diversion program for juveniles in 2000-01. "There was a need for it. It worked. It was a good program," he said.
Paddling the young male offenders, or giving them "swats," was one facet of a multidisciplinary approach, Martin testified. Also involved was grounding, early curfews, restricted vehicle use, community service details, and being respectful to parents.
Rules were to be memorized, including No. 15 -- being told only once to complete chores. "Parents liked that," Martin said.
Martin and defense attorney Dominic Vitantonio spent all day Monday methodically reviewing his documentation for nearly a dozen of the juveniles that had been in the Fowler diversion program.
All program facets were explained to parents over a one-hour meeting and none of them complained at first about the swats, Martin recalled.
The juveniles had gotten in trouble for speeding, theft by deception, drug abuse, domestic violence, fleeing and eluding, aggravated menacing, and shooting at passing cars with a BB gun. They were seen as good enough kids for the diversion program, having no previous serious juvenile records.
Martin kept track of their progress, and number of swats received, in their files. He said he'd have the youths prioritize appropriate consequences -- including swats -- for their actions in order of severity.
"You ask the kids to say, 'What do you think you deserve for your consequences? What do you think is reasonable," he said. "It all gave the kids a good vibe and a good attitude to the program."
Swats could be suspended on condition of good behavior, Martin testified. Some parents eventually did complain, and he said other consequences were arranged for correcting behaviors.
Martin retired last year.
If convicted he could face two years in prison. His indictment has now been amended from 52 to 36 counts.
Prosecutors dismissed eight of 20 counts of dereliction of duty, seven counts of unauthorized photography, and one of two counts of felony theft in office. There are 11 counts of assault and 12 counts of using a sham legal process.
The swats were videotaped without knowledge of the juvenile offender or parents, testimony has shown.
In Howland, where Martin was a full-time police captain until retiring last year, young men were being referred to his Fowler program. This was based upon his review of their cases or referral from others.
One of the Howland participants was Christian Mikusevich of Stillwagon Road, who on Jan. 7 filed a civil lawsuit against both townships, their officials and Martin seeking more than $200,000. A process server gave Martin a copy of this lawsuit during a break in the trial Monday. Mikusevich claims pain, suffering, embarrassment and other injuries.
Mikusevich in fall 2003 had a lawyer call Martin seeking options other than swats, such as community service. But Mikusevich, who had failed to memorize some of the program's 17 rules, wanted the work details changed back to swats, Martin recalled.