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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012

Judge to decide sergeant shooting case

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

At the end of a seemingly normal day inside the Toledo police Scott Park district station, Sergeant Jeffrey Bechtel was surprised when confronted by a person with a gun — his colleague and friend, Sergeant Gloria Burks.

After three days of trial this week that included the testimony of nine witnesses, a Lucas County Common Pleas Court judge must decide whether Sergeant Burks knowingly or recklessly shot Sergeant Bechtel or whether she did not understand the wrongfulness of her actions because she was suffering from a seizure at the time.

Sergeant Burks, 51, is charged with felonious assault with a gun specification and an alternative charge of assault. She is accused of shooting Sergeant Bechtel once through his upper right arm on Sept. 20, 2010.

Assistant County Prosecutor Frank Spryszak noted during closing arguments Friday that Sergeant Burks was diagnosed in October, 2008, with complex partial seizures, or a form of epilepsy. He said that the evidence showed that since her diagnosis, Sergeant Burks continually ignored her medical doctor’s concerns that her job as a police officer put herself and others at risk because it required her to drive a vehicle and carry a firearm.

“She shouldn’t have been driving because of her medical condition. She shouldn’t have been handling a firearm because of her medical condition and each time she was told, Sergeant Burks was not accepting of these recommendations,” Mr. Spryszak said, nothing that the sergeant did not pursue a second opinion. “Instead, she chose to continue working.”

During the trial, Sergeant Bechtel and Deputy Chief Diana Ruiz-Krause both testified that Sergeant Burks was non-responsive to verbal commands during the incident and appeared to be dazed. They said nothing appeared to prompt the incident and that Sergeant Burks was on full active duty at the time.

Two clinical psychologists testified — one called by the court, the other by the defense — that in their opinions, Sergeant Burks was in an altered state of consciousness at the time of the incident and so was unaware of her actions.

Bob Stinson of Twin Valley Behavioral Heath Care and Charlene Cassel of the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center both independently opined that the sergeant fit the legal definition of not guilty by reason of insanity because a seizure caused her not to be aware of the wrongfulness of her actions at the time.

Ms. Cassel further testified that the seizure constituted a mental defect because there is “something wrong with the brain when someone has a seizure disorder.”

Defense attorney Jane Roman acknowledged that Sergeant Burks did not fit the “typical profile” of someone who is not guilty by reason of insanity. But she added that the legal standard requires the judge to consider her state of mind at the time of the incident, not in the days and months preceding it.

“It’s been clearly established that on Sept. 20, 2010, Gloria Burks did not know as a result of a mental defect, in this case a seizure disorder, the wrongfulness of her act when she withdrew her service weapon and shot Jeff Bechtel,” she said.

Ms. Roman noted that medical doctors were clear when testifying that during a seizure a patient cannot control his or her actions.

James Sander testified Friday as a rebuttal witness to Ms. Cassel’s testimony. A neurologist at the Toledo Clinic, Dr. Sander testified that he did not treat Sergeant Burks but reviewed her medical and psychological records.

Dr. Sander testified that epilepsy is a medical condition and not a disease or a psychological issue. He said that it is treated with medication and sometimes surgery.

The neurologist further testified that Sergeant Burks’ actions as described by those that witnessed her raising her gun, aiming it, and firing a single shot, and then turning around with her gun raised, was a “complex act.” He further opined that “the more complex the act, the less likely it is related to a seizure or [after seizure confusion] state.”

After closing arguments, defense attorneys made a motion asking Judge Myron Duhart to also consider the misdemeanor charge of negligent assault. The judge granted time for assistant prosecutors to oppose the motion and set a Monday hearing where arguments may be heard.

It is unclear when the judge will return his verdict.

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



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