PADDLING CASE Lamantia intervened in 1993
Martin had more letters of appreciation in his personnel file than any officer.
WARREN -- Howland Township officials' concern about juvenile paddlings in a diversion program prompted James Martin's removal from that program in 1993, former Police Chief Steve Lamantia testified Tuesday.
Lamantia did not, however, put these concerns into a written directive to Martin.
Lamantia retired from Howland in 2003 after 10 years as chief. He was called upon Tuesday by David Toepfer, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, in the case against the retired cop, who is accused of paddling many juveniles.
Martin retired last year as Fowler Township's part-time chief and also as a full-time captain in the Howland Police Department.
Lamantia was told by township trustees during the last phase of his hiring process in 1993 that there's "something we want you to do right off the bat ... Stop Capt. Martin's diversion program," Lamantia testified. "They had tried to get it stopped before by the previous chief, and they found out it wasn't."
Lamantia met with Martin on his first day as chief, Feb. 8, 1993, told him about the trustees' concerns, and was told by Martin that at times he did paddle juveniles.
"I said, 'Why in the heck are you doing that? My God, that's wrong," Lamantia testified.
Lamantia, who also has 30 years' Ohio State Highway Patrol experience, continued, "There is nothing, no guidelines, no operations, that [say] police, law enforcement at any level has a right to paddle."
Martin responded that no one had ever told him it was wrong, the retired chief noted.
"It was a very rough meeting for both Jim and I," Lamantia recalled of the session. "The impression I got was that he felt very let down."
Martin told his boss he had parents' approval. Lamantia then asked where the paddle was kept. The thick wooden paddle, similar to a fraternity paddle, was kept in Martin's office.
"I said, 'Take the paddle, take it home, get it out of here,'" Lamantia testified. "I said, 'The diversion program's done; you're no longer a juvenile officer.'"
Defense attorney Dominic Vitantonio had Lamantia read through the subsequent Feb. 16, 1993, written directive stopping the diversion program and removing Martin from it. Lamantia agreed that the document does not tell Martin paddling is wrong. It discusses replacing an antiquated diversion program and restructuring supervisory staff.
"You never as chief indicated officially with any document within the police department ... that it was wrong or not acceptable, is that a fact?" Vitantonio asked.
"That's a fact," Lamantia responded.
Vitantonio has said his client operated the diversion program in an attempt to help juveniles stay out of trouble. Lamantia then testified that Martin's personnel file attested to the program's effectiveness, and acknowledged Martin had more letters of appreciation from parents and children in his file "than any other officer."
Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court is presiding over the jury trial. Martin pleaded innocent in May 2004 to 20 misdemeanor counts of dereliction of duty, 11 counts of assault, 12 counts of sham legal process and seven counts of unauthorized photography. He also faces two counts of theft in office, fifth-degree felonies. He has been free on $2,500 bond.
According to a 1993 internal investigation conducted by Lamantia, Martin admitted paddling about 20 juveniles at the Howland police department from 1975 to 1992, as part of the juvenile diversion program. They all were male.
Lamantia sent letters in 1993 to the Trumbull County prosecutor's office and Trumbull County Children Services Board asking for an opinion on Martin's use of corporal punishment.
A Jan. 27, 1993, letter from children services to Martin states there was no evidence to support an allegation of child abuse. The letter, however, recommends that Martin eliminate paddling or the use of any other form of physical discipline as an option in his diversion program. State and federal officials began investigating Martin's juvenile diversion program in March 2004. The program, which diverted offenders from the court system, was being operated out of the Fowler Township Police Department.
The theft-in-office charges state Martin took a police file, videotapes, physical evidence and diversion program files from 1975-92 from the Howland Township Police Department. The records were stored in his basement, the indictment states.