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TRUMBULL COUNTY Jury starts deliberating in James Martin trial



Published: Wed, February 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Consider the bias of some of the witnesses, the defense lawyer urged.

WARREN -- A jury began deciding if James Martin, former Fowler Township police chief and ex-Howland police captain, took official records and ran a sham legal process for paddling young men.

"There's a lot of stuff here that appears to be suggestive, but it's all smoke and mirrors and other irrelevant stuff," defense lawyer Dominic Vitantonio told jurors during his closing argument Tuesday.

Swatted himself

To illustrate his point, he produced Martin's paddle and swatted himself loudly on the upper leg four times. "Look at this thing. It's so flimsy," he said. "It makes some noise. But so what?"

If it stung kids participating in Martin's juvenile diversion program a little bit, "That's what they were there for," he said.

A jury in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court began deliberating at 3:25 p.m. Tuesday after receiving instructions from Judge Andrew Logan. The jurors went home overnight and were to resume work this morning.

Argued for defendant

Vitantonio has argued that the evidence shows Martin ran an effective juvenile diversion program that kept wayward teens out of court, and taught them the value of work and good behavior.

David Toepfer, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, argued Martin had no authority to run his program outside of court supervision, to paddle and videotape young men as part of the program, or to keep case files at home.

Martin's amended 36-count indictment is for 12 counts of dereliction of duty, one count of felony theft in office, 11 counts of assault and 12 counts of using a sham legal process.

Even if jurors believe Martin made a "bad choice," they should see by applying the evidence that he's innocent and being made a scapegoat, the defense lawyer said.

Six juveniles have civil actions pending against Martin seeking monetary damages. "You are supposed to consider the bias or interest of the witnesses," he told the jurors.

Vitantonio methodically reviewed each count in Martin's indictment with the jurors, noting that the evidence applies to each count separately and that their task is "going to be intellectually difficult."

What he faces

If convicted Martin could face two years in prison.

A lot of Vitantonio's argument centered on whether Martin was expressly granted or forbidden certain powers by law, regarding traffic cases, running a diversion program or maintaining records. Martin issued documents "in his capacity as the boss of the police department," his lawyer said.

State and federal officials began investigating Martin's juvenile diversion program in March 2004. The program was being operated out of the Fowler Township Police Department, but until 1993 ran out of Howland's department.

Martin retired from the part-time Fowler and full-time Howland jobs last year. His personal testimony centered on how the program had the young men learn to follow 17 rules and accept discipline, including making restitution to victims and corporal punishment.

The swats were videotaped without knowledge of the juvenile offender or parents, testimony has shown. During the course of his weeklong trial, teen boys testified that they and their parents consented to participating in Martin's program. None knew that they had been videotaped getting paddled.

Claimed liability reasoning

Martin said he made the videos for liability protection. The prosecution, though, noted they show no faces and are not clearly labeled with times, dates or names.

The jurors will review the videos. In these there is no evidence of physical harm, Vitantonio said. "A lot of these kids testified the swat was the easy way out, despite what it sounds like," he said.

Officials from both the Howland and Fowler departments testified about what they knew of Martin's program.

Howland Police Chief Paul Monroe testified that Martin's program in Fowler was "a sham" legal process, a serious error in judgment and a crime. He said it would be unlawful on grounds of dereliction of duty and assault.

Steve Lamantia, Monroe's predecessor, testified that law enforcement officers at any level have no right to paddle. Lamantia also said township officials' concern about juvenile paddlings prompted Martin's removal from that program in Howland in 1993.

State investigators described how documents and videotapes were removed from both the Fowler department and Martin's home based on search warrants. Among items retrieved was a computer disc called "swat training" that showed the youths being paddled at the side of a desk.

Both Monroe and Lamantia testified to how official records are to be kept only at the police station, unless they are being used, for example, at a trial. Copies could be made, but taking originals home was not allowed.

"The purpose of a diversion program is not to give anybody any kind of an official record," Vitantonio noted. "This is his property. They're his records, he's entitled to keep them, this is his program ... What are they saying? That he stole them from himself?"




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