Plaintiffs contended James Martin violated their constitutional rights.
YOUNGSTOWN -- A federal judge has dismissed four civil lawsuits against James E. Martin, the retired Fowler Township police chief, who paddled boys in a youth diversion program.
In a 20-page order filed Friday in Youngstown federal court, U.S. Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert said Martin is entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects government officials from civil damages unless they clearly violated laws or constitutional rights.
Martin once served as a part-time police chief for Fowler Township and as police captain for Howland Township. In Howland, he operated a youthful offenders diversion program that included corporal punishment.
Between March and May 2004, four civil lawsuits were filed against the townships and Martin by four males who participated in the diversion program, three of whom were paddled. The cases, which span July 2003 through January 2004, were consolidated and set for jury trial in July.
Martin's Columbus lawyer, Douglas J. Suter, had asked Judge Limbert to dismiss the case because of the qualified immunity.
Suter also said in court papers that the facts were not in dispute for the males who broke the law, three of whom, with approval of their parents, voluntarily consented to being paddled in the diversion program. Participation in the program would result in dismissal of any criminal action.
Warren attorney Sara T. Kovoor and Boardman attorney Alan J. Matavich represent the plaintiffs. They alleged that Martin broke the law and violated their clients' constitutional rights.
Suter contended that the plaintiffs failed to cite any case law to show that it was unconstitutional to operate a diversion program; unconstitutional to use corporal punishment with the consent of the offender and parents; and unconstitutional to videotape the paddlings.
"The court finds that Chief Martin did not commit the type of injury-causing acts which shock the conscience and thereby violate the right to substantive due process guaranteed by the constitution," Judge Limbert wrote in his decision.
Vindicator files show that Michael W. Harrington, 18, of Trumbull Drive, Niles (speeding); Robert J. McCrystal, 18, of Stillwagon Road, Howland (fight at school); and Richard Thomas Woolf, 16, of Vienna (speeding), were paddled. Scott C. Villio, 20, of Oak Forest Drive, Niles ("incident" at a store), received house arrest and loss of his driver's license.
Judge Limbert said that to establish a violation of rights, the plaintiffs needed to establish that the force applied caused severe injury, was disproportionate to the need presented and was inspired by malice or sadism rather than a merely careless or unwise excess of zeal.
The boys all violated the law in some form and agreed to participate in the diversionary program in lieu of prosecution, the judge said.
Thursday, in a related criminal case, a jury in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court found Martin guilty of 12 counts of using a sham legal process and six counts of dereliction of duty, all of which are misdemeanors. The sham legal process involved Martin's providing youthful offenders with a document that appeared official but was not.
His lawyer plans to appeal. Sentencing is set for March 1 on the convictions.
The jury acquitted Martin of felony theft, 11 counts of assault and six counts of dereliction of duty.