If it hadn't have been for the paddlings he administered in his unauthorized juvenile diversion program, James Martin might still be a Howland police captain and Fowler police chief.
It was the paddling that got the most attention in Martin's recent trial in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, and it is the paddling and videotaping of it that seems to be at the heart of civil lawsuits that have been filed against Martin and the two townships that employed him.
But what should be more shocking to people's sensibilities than a few swats on the rear ends of unruly kids is the idea that Martin was able to operate for years a program in which he was arresting officer, confessor, prosecutor, judge, jury, punisher and rehabilitater.
Regardless of Martin's motives, indeed, regardless of whatever success he may have had, one person shouldn't be able to evolve into his own legal justice system. Martin was once ordered to cease operating his diversion program by a new Howland police chief, but he managed to get it restarted. And he continued to receive referrals of teenagers from other police officers.
No big secret
Through the years, he dealt with parents, lawyers, colleagues, even the Children Services Board, yet it wasn't until last year that he was called to account for what he was doing. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people knew what he was doing and yet, because it was generally accepted that he had a way of turning kids around, no one asked the one question that should have been asked: By what authority does one man circumvent the courts in dealing with criminal behavior.
And Martin was dealing with youngsters involved in criminal behavior. In addition to traffic offenses, the boys were accused of theft by deception, drug abuse, domestic violence, fleeing and eluding, aggravated menacing and shooting at passing cars with a BB gun.
Testimony showed that Martin's diversion program was well-organized and the parents obviously believed that Martin was well-intentioned. The boys were required to do chores and community service, maintain good grades, be honest and stay out of trouble. There was no smoking, no baggy clothes and no staying out late. And, there were swats with a fraternity-style paddle, which was secretly videotaped.
The jury found that Martin didn't have the legal authority to operate his one-man criminal justice system. It found him guilty of 12 counts of violating section 2921.52 of the Ohio Revised Code, using a sham legal process. It also found him guilty of dereliction of duty for voiding a traffic ticket he had written.
Guilt and innocence
Yet the jury found him innocent of assault for the paddling. If the diversion program was a sham, then by what right did Martin strike any of the youngsters? He had no more right to paddle them than a neighbor would have to paddle a child who broke a window with a baseball. As a police officer, he had no more right to paddle a juvenile for his own good than he would have to slap or punch a nonresisting adult in the interest of teaching him a lesson.
It appears that the jury was convinced -- perhaps by the videotapes and perhaps by an in-court demonstration by Martin's attorney, who whacked his own leg with the paddle -- that the only thing hurt was the boys' pride.
The jury also had a right to be skeptical of those boys and their parents who were more than happy to have Martin keep them out of the juvenile justice system a couple of years ago but are now seeking thousands of dollars in compensation from Martin and Fowler and Howland townships. In those cases, whatever methods Martin used to teach people to take personal responsibility for their mistakes apparently failed.
What everyone should have learned is that diversion programs can perform a valuable function, giving a young person who has made a mistake a second chance. But they must be operated through the courts, with proper record keeping and adequate supervision.