PERU — An internal investigation says a Peru police officer shocked a 64-year-old nursing home patient with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s a total of five times, releasing 31 seconds of electricity in just over a minute.
Was that force used by Peru Officer Gregory Martin excessive, and does it justify his termination?
That was the question put before the city’s board of works Monday, where board members listened to more than nine hours of testimony from witnesses during a hearing to determine whether to fire Martin — the recommendation made by Police Chief Steve Hoover this month.
“I believe his conduct ... was so unreasonable that it was unbecoming of an officer on the Peru Police Department,” Hoover said during the hearing. “I think he should have done a lot of things different.”
The hearing stems from a June 17 incident in which Martin and Officer Jeremy Brindle were dispatched to Miller’s Merry Manor nursing home after an employee reported resident James Howard was “very combative,” according to a 9-1-1 call released at the hearing.
After Howard wouldn’t obey officers’ commands to enter an ambulance to go to Dukes Memorial Hospital and backed Brindle into a corner with closed fists, Martin Tased Howard five times — four times while on the ground, according to employees who witnessed the incident.
But a decision from the board will wait until Aug. 10. The hearing was recessed to allow time for more witnesses to weigh in on the incident.
Martin is also accused of making false statements during the internal investigation — a violation of department code that comes with its own penalties. Martin claimed Howard stood up and continued to fight after the first and second times he administered a shock. Witnesses denied the claims, saying Howard remained on the ground after the first use of the Taser.
Martin’s attorney, Kristina Lynn, squared off against city attorney Bill Berkshire, who argued Martin used excessive force.
Berkshire argued a Taser was unneeded to subdue Howard, even in his combative state.
Two female nurses testified they were able to hold Howard long enough for a male nurse to administer a shot of anti-anxiety drugs.
“You never got hit. You never got hurt,” Berkshire said to one of the female nurses during her testimony. “No one had to get Tased to give him a shot.”
Nurse U.L. Jones, who said Howard struck him on the back of the head when he wasn’t looking, testified he could “rather easily” hold Howard at arm’s length with the palm of his hand to avoid serious injury.
However, Lynn argued some nursing home staff were seriously concerned for the safety of other residents and themselves while Howard was combative.
“He had this look in his eye that just scared me,” testified nurse Faysha Graber, who helped nurses administer the shot to Howard.
Lynn also stressed that Martin was following proper protocol when dealing with a combative patient.
According to testimony offered by Miami County Sheriff’s Deputy Jon Jumper, who was able to determine the number of shocks issued from Martin’s Taser, department code says officers should use a Taser after a person ignores verbal commands but before using “soft, open-hand force” like grabbing or holding.
Jumper also testified that Martin had passed Taser recertification in April, receiving a nearly perfect score on the recertification test.
Hoover argued that Martin violated many key lessons taught during the training, including giving a person time to recover after being shocked, avoiding the use of a Taser with the elderly or mentally ill, allowing more than 36 seconds between electric shocks and perceiving that a person can obey commands — a fact nursing home staff said Howard was unable to do.
However, area law enforcement and certified trainers Chad Galligan and Steve Hicks testified that the force used by Martin wasn’t inherently excessive and might have been justified given the details of the situation.
But Hoover maintained Martin’s actions were unreasonable.
“I myself would never use a Taser in a nursing home,” he said. “Not on a man who just needs to go to the hospital.”
Lynn said she planned to call five more witnesses on Aug. 10, when the hearing should conclude and the board might issue its verdict on Hoover’s recommendation.
• Carson Gerber is a reporter for the Kokomo Tribune. He can be reached at 765-854-6739 or firstname.lastname@example.org.