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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Trial begins for sergeant accused in shooting

Attorney claims Burks had a 'mental defect'

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Sgt. Gloria Burks, right, speaks with her attorney, Jane Roman, in Common Pleas Court. Sgt. Gloria Burks, right, speaks with her attorney, Jane Roman, in Common Pleas Court.
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With his arms poised as if holding a gun -- first pointed low and then straight ahead -- Toledo police Sgt. Jeff Bechtel demonstrated in Lucas County Common Pleas Court Wednesday what he encountered moments before a fellow sergeant shot him in the arm.

Sergeant Bechtel was the first witness to testify during the criminal trial of Sgt. Gloria Burks, 51, who is charged with felonious assault with a gun specification and an alternative charge of assault. She is accused of shooting her colleague during a Sept. 20, 2010, incident at the department's Scott Park district station.

"I thought it was a little strange. I tried to rationalize it. I didn't say anything, she didn't say anything. She just started to raise the weapon in my direction," he said of his fellow officer and friend. "… We were friends. I had no reason to suspect anything was going to happen. She just raised the weapon, no words were exchanged. I just thought it was a bad joke."

Six witnesses testified during the first day of the trial before Judge Myron Duhart. Because Sergeant Burks waived her right to a jury trial, Judge Duhart will ultimately decide whether the sergeant either knowingly or recklessly caused physical harm to the victim or whether she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

During opening statements, attorney Jane Roman indicated that at the time of the shooting, Sergeant Burks "was not able to appreciate the wrongfulness of her actions." Ms. Roman noted that two separate psychologists opined that she was suffering from a "mental defect" at the time of the shooting, namely a diagnosed seizure disorder.

Assistant County Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson said in opening statements the sergeant's condition was well-known to her and that she had been in fact placed on light duty for several months as a result. She was also being treated for the condition, he said.

Before the shooting incident, Mr. Anderson said she was advised by her doctor to get a job where she was not required to carry a gun or drive a car. "She completely ignored these risk factors and went back to work and drove a car and carried a weapon," Mr. Anderson said. "Then on Sept. 20, 2010, what she had been warned about happened."

Also testifying was Deputy Chief Diana Ruiz-Krause, who was a captain stationed in Scott Park at the time of the shooting. She said that she heard a gunshot and ran to her office door, where she saw Sergeant Burks holding her gun.

She further testified that the sergeant did not respond to three commands to put down her weapon and that she was forced to approach and remove Sergeant Burks' gun from her hands.

Deputy Chief Ruiz-Krause further testified about Sergeant Burks' previous status on light duty and the sergeant's attempts to stay on light duty and not be returned to full active duty.

Bob Stinson, a clinical and forensic psychologist, testified as a court witness about an evaluation in which he concluded Sergeant Burks was in an "altered state of consciousness."

"In my opinion, at the moment the shooting occurred, she was not in a state of consciousness where she would even consider what she was doing," he said, adding that in his opinion the shooting occurred either during or immediately after a seizure.

Mr. Stinson further stated that he is aware of other instances in which someone suffering from seizures was found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity.

Toledo sisters Charlotte Goben, 68, and Elva Goben, 61, both testified about a Feb. 10, 2010, incident in which they said the vehicle they were in was hit from behind several times by a vehicle while stuck in stop-and-go traffic. The two sisters each testified that they were scared because they believed it to be an incident of road rage and called 911.

The two also testified that it was Sergeant Burks who rammed their vehicle but that she was adamant at the time that she did not hit them.

Mr. Stinson also referred to this incident and opined that Sergeant Burks was likely suffering from a seizure at the time of the incident.

The trial will resume with additional testimony Thursday. Because the victim was a peace officer, Sergeant Burks faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted of assault and up to 10 years in prison if convicted of felonious assault.

The gun specification would add an additional three years.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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