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PADDLING CASE 3 more young men file suits against ex-Fowler police chief



Published: Mon, February 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Another Trumbull County Common Pleas Court case is now in federal court.

YOUNGSTOWN -- Civil rights lawsuits keep rolling in for the retired Fowler Township police chief who paddled boys in a youth diversion program.

On Feb. 4, U.S. Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert dismissed four civil rights lawsuits boys' parents filed against James E. Martin in federal court, concluding that Martin had qualified immunity, which 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.

Judge Limbert said that to establish a violation of rights, the plaintiffs needed to show 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 force would have to amount to brutal or inhumane abuse of official power literally shocking to the conscience, he said.

Status conference

Judge Limbert scheduled a status conference in the combined cases for Feb. 28 for the remaining defendants -- Howland and Fowler townships.

Now, three more young men have filed similar lawsuits in federal court. They are Amir Shehabi of Niles-Cortland Road, Howland; Hubert Flowers of Venice Drive, Howland; and John L. Romine of Youngstown-Kingsville-Road, Fowler. Their ages were not shown in the lawsuit.

The new case is assigned to Judge Limbert.

Shehabi, while a Howland High School student in 2003, was suspended when a liquor bottle and beer bottle were found in his car, court papers show. Flowers was stopped for speeding in spring or summer 2003. Romine was accused by Martin of shooting BBs at cars in Fowler Township in summer 2002.

Shehabi, Flowers and Romine participated in Martin's diversion program in lieu of prosecution and were paddled.

The lawsuit names as defendants Martin, Fowler and its trustees, Howland and its trustees, and Howland Police Chief Paul Monroe.

The plaintiffs say Martin fraudulently had them enter into false and judicially unauthorized probation agreements, which violated their civil rights. He also videotaped the paddlings without their permission, the lawsuit states.

The young men sustained physical injuries, emotional pain and embarrassment, the lawsuit states. It was filed by Boardman attorney Alan J. Matavich and Warren attorney Sarah T. Kovoor.

The plaintiffs' attorneys ask for compensatory damages in excess of $100,000 and punitive damages in excess of $100,000.

Transferred to federal court

Last week, a case filed in January in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Christian Mikusevich, now 19, of Stillwagon Road, Howland, was transferred to federal court. The defendants are Martin, Howland and Fowler townships, their trustees, and Howland Township Police Department.

Mikusevich, who received a traffic citation in September 2003, participated in Martin's diversion program. The program included paddling as an alternative form of sentencing.

The Mikusevich case is expected to be combined with the lawsuit filed by Shehabi, Flowers and Romine.

Verdicts

On Feb. 3, in a related state case, a Trumbull County jury found Martin guilty of 12 counts of using a sham legal process and six dereliction of duty counts. 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 misdemeanor convictions.

The jury acquitted Martin of felony theft, 11 counts of assault and six counts of dereliction of duty.




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