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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012

Court hears Burks warned by doctor not to drive, carry gun

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

On three occasions in the months before she shot a fellow Toledo police sergeant, Gloria Burks was told by her attending neurologist that it was unsafe to drive a car or carry a weapon, according to testimony in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.

Dr. Vicki Ramsey-Williams was one of two witnesses to testify Thursday in the second day of Sergeant Burks' criminal trial.

Sergeant Burks is charged with felonious assault with a gun specification and an alternative charge of assault. She is accused of shooting Sgt. Jeffery Bechtel in the arm Sept. 20, 2010, at the Scott Park district station.

Dr. Ramsey-Williams reviewed her consultations with Sergeant Burks dating to October, 2008. She said Sergeant Burks was diagnosed with a complex partial seizure disorder and was prescribed medication in May, 2009.

In November, 2009, the doctor recommended to Sergeant Burks that she not drive until free from seizures for six months and expressed concerns that she carried a weapon as part of her employment.

"My concern was that she would have a seizure while driving or while using a firearm," the doctor testified.

When questioned, Dr. Ramsey-Williams affirmed she had made Sergeant Burks aware of the risks associated with continuing her employment and suffering from a seizure disorder, although she believed Sergeant Burks "did not want to hear it."

Eight witnesses have testified over two days in the trial before Judge Myron Duhart. Because Sergeant Burks waived her right to a jury trial, the judge will decide whether she acted knowingly or recklessly when shooting the victim or whether she was not aware of the wrongfulness of her actions and was not guilty by reason of insanity.

Testifying on behalf of the defense was Charlene Cassel, a clinical psychologist employed by the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center. Ms. Cassel said Sergeant Burks was unaware of the wrongfulness of her actions at the time of the incident because she suffered a "mental defect," namely a seizure.

The opinion paralleled that of Bob Stinson, also a clinical psychologist, who testified Wednesday.

Ms. Cassel further testified that in her opinion, Sergeant Burks action was a "reflex," in that she was putting her equipment away at the time and "reflexively pulled [the gun] out."

Ms. Cassel and Mr. Stinson acknowledged they are not medical doctors, and that seizures are a medical diagnosis. Dr. Ramsey-Williams during her testimony said seizures manifest in various ways, including for Sergeant Burks, in staring, picking at her clothing, or smacking her lips. By definition, the doctor testified, complex partial seizure disorder is one in which the patient loses awareness and so would not be able to orchestrate a specific action.

Both the state and the defense rested their cases. Assistant County Prosecutor J. Christopher Anderson said the state intends to call a rebuttal witness Friday.

After the state rested its case, attorney Deborah Rump asked Judge Duhart to dismiss the charges because the state failed to prove the essential elements of the charges. She said the two psychologists stated that Sergeant Burks was in an altered state of consciousness when she fired, and there was no previous indication of such behavior.

Mr. Anderson countered that the sergeant was told multiple times not to drive and not to carry a weapon. He said by ignoring her doctor's advice and failing to inform her employer about her seizures, she put not only her fellow officers at risk but the community every time she got inside her patrol vehicle.

Judge Duhart denied the defense request.

During the first day of the trial, Sergeant Bechtel and Deputy Chief Diana Ruiz-Krause testified about the shooting incident. Also testifying were two Toledo sisters, Charlotte Goben, 69, and Elva Goben, 61, whose vehicle was struck by Sergeant Burks in February, 2010, though the sergeant denied memory of the event.

Lt. Richard Hoover of the fiscal affairs bureau testified Wednesday about the department's retirement and pension plans. Based on her age and years of service, Sergeant Burks was eligible for a Deferred Retirement Options Program through the department, he said. At the time of the incident, Sergeant Burks was less than a year shy of being eligible for a potential lump-sum payment through the program upon leaving.

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



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