Excessive force? Retired minister, 92, files suit against police officer, city

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 8, 2014

SALISBURY — A 92-year-old retired minister has filed a civil complaint against a Salisbury Police officer claiming the officer used unreasonable force in tackling him and breaking two bones.
The Rev. J.W. Loy Jr., who had been a resident at the Salisbury Gardens assisted-living facility at the time, was hospitalized for four days after the April 4, 2013, incident.
“This isn’t about anybody but my daddy and a police officer who stepped over the line,” said Loy’s daughter, Shari Keller.
Filed Feb. 26 in Rowan County Superior Court, Loy’s suit names Police Officer Chris Hamm and the city of Salisbury as defendants.
It asks for a jury trial.
“I feel confident any jury hearing the case will exonerate the officer,” said Scott MacLatchie, a Charlotte attorney representing Hamm and the city against the suit.
MacLatchie said Hamm did nothing wrong and was not reprimanded, suspended or put on leave because of the incident.
Because a person was injured during a police officer’s use of force doesn’t mean the use of force was unreasonable, MacLatchie added.
The attorney said Hamm could have used more force than he did against Loy but showed restraint because of the minister’s advanced age.
Loy’s suit seeks seven claims for relief and compensatory damages of more than $10,000. The two sides met and tried to reach an out-of-court settlement but were unsuccessful, Keller said.
Salisbury attorney Randy Reamer is representing Loy, a well-traveled Baptist minister in the area who once had a radio show on WSAT and a periodic column in the Salisbury Post.
In 1961, Loy received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Trinity College in Dunedin, Fla. The school’s most famous graduate is evangelist Dr. Billy Graham.
Loy served on Trinity College’s executive board for seven consecutive three-year terms. In 1981 the school made him an honorary lifetime member of its executive board — only the third person who had received that honor.
According to the complaint, Loy had been living at Salisbury Gardens for more than a year and “was well known to staff and the residents as a gentle soul who was always ready to help others as a witness for God.”
Here’s what happened April 4, as related by the filing and Loy’s daughter.
Around supper, Loy developed a urinary tract infection and was running a fever. He had not taken his prescription medications and had become disoriented and confused, growing upset in the common area of Salisbury Gardens.
He refused to obey instructions from the staff to calm down and return to his room to take the medications.
The nursing staff called Loy’s family to assist. Shari Keller said she was recovering from a second knee operation, and she sent her husband, Rex, to Salisbury Gardens.
She also gave the Salisbury Gardens staff permission to call Rowan County Emergency Medical Services to transport Loy to the hospital.
When there’s evidence of an uncooperative patient, EMS will not respond without a call for assistance to law enforcement.
The Salisbury Police officers answering were Hamm and J.S. Lakey, who was being trained by Hamm.
Before police arrived, Rex Keller showed up, and he and other staff members were able to lead Loy to his private room.
“Reverend Loy was in a calm state … in his room when the officers entered the room,” the complaint says.
Shari Keller said her father’s demeanor changed when he saw the officers.
“That really confused Daddy as to what they were doing there,” she said.
Loy became agitated again, stood up and was trying to talk with Lakey. Shari Keller said Loy thought Lakey was some kind of security officer with Salisbury Gardens, and he thought they were having a good conversation. Both had raised their voices because the profoundly deaf Loy was not wearing his hearing aids, she added.
“At one point, Reverend Loy raised his cane even with his chest with both hands and shook it,” the suit says. “He did not raise the cane above his head or swing his cane at the officer. He did not present a threat to Officer Lakey.”
Shari Keller said her father always talks with his hands and described him at that point as having both hands on his aluminum cane in front of his chest.
“In talking with it, it would have been moving,” she said.
The suit alleges Hamm then re-entered the room, tackled Loy and took him to the floor. Rex Keller and three staff members witnessed it, Shari said.
“There was an audible cracking of bones when Reverend Loy was tackled,” the complaint states.
On the ground, Loy was screaming in pain while Hamm said, “What is your problem, you just assaulted an officer of the law,” the suit states.
Shari Keller said “tackle” is an accurate word for what happened. “It was pick him up, slam him to the floor,” she said. “The nurses were so upset they were in tears.”
Hamm placed a knee in Loy’s back, pulled Loy’s arms behind him and handcuffed the minister. With Loy still on the floor, Hamm told Keller and the staff to stay back or leave the room, and he would not allow them to assist Loy, the suit claims.
Loy remained there until EMS arrived and transported him to the hospital.
The suit says Loy was treated for a “comminuted right acetabular fracture” and a “nondisplaced fracture of the right inferior pubic ramus.”
Shari Keller, a nurse, said her father had a broken pubic bone in the front and spider fractures in a fanlike hip bone in the back.
Loy, 91 at the time, did not return to Salisbury Gardens and is living in another facility.
MacLatchie stressed there was no intent on Hamm’s part to injure the retired minister as he was trying to take away Loy’s cane.
MacLatchie acknowledged Loy’s advanced age was a factor as it relates to his being injured more readily.
But courts across the country dealing with claims brought against police by older people have “uniformly said the mere fact of a person’s advanced age does not equate with the use of force as being unreasonable,” MacLatchie added.
The Charlotte attorney said it has to be emphasized Loy was acting in a manner in which the Salisbury Gardens staff — people Loy knew on a daily basis — could not control him and called for help.
MacLatchie said Loy’s son-in-law also could not control Loy.
Loy raised his cane, stepped toward Lakey and Hamm reacted by grabbing Loy and going to the floor with him, trying to break the minister’s fall, MacLatchie said.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Loy was injured going to the ground,” he added.
Shari Keller said her father is a small, frail man, who has dealt with a series of health challenges in recent years. “His legs, you could just about blow on him and he would fall down,” she said.
Keller said she could understand an officer’s having to use force if a person were drunk at a bar and out of control, “but if anybody perceived that little aluminum cane to be a threat…”
“I could have taken that cane away from Daddy with one hand,” she added. “… If I had gone, Officer Hamm would have known what a cane was.”
Keller said her father doesn’t remember much from the incident because he was running a fever. “It was all this hubbub, and he didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
But he does remember all of the people coming to his room, the tackle, the pain, wondering whether he would die as he lay on the ground and asking himself if he lived, would he be able to walk again.
Shari Keller said Loy “lost” the next four days in the hospital. He then went to a nursing home, where for six weeks he could not put any weight on his legs.
Therapy that followed worked aggressively on getting him up and moving again.
Loy is now in an assisted-living area and is able to walk “very tentatively,” Keller said. But mostly he is in a wheelchair and taking a narcotic for pain.
Just a few weeks before the incident at Salisbury Gardens, Loy was showing good strength and mentioned to Keller he would like to have “a little job like being a greeter at Walmart,” she said.
Loy’s suit states Hamm’s court appearance record “shows a high propensity for Officer Hamm to charge offenders with resisting, delaying and obstructing and for himself to respond with force or excessive force in order to administer ‘justice’ at the street level and not through the courts.”
The suit suggests, too, that Hamm was trying to show off to Lakey, his trainee, at the expense of Loy.
“If that’s the way our officers are being trained, something needs to change fast,” Shari Keller said.
The claim goes on to paint Hamm and other Salisbury Police officers as part of a culture engaging in this type of behavior for years and the city of Salisbury, as their employer, being aware of it but not acting to stop the conduct.
Loy’s attorney has submitted sets of interrogatories to Hamm and the city and requests for the production of documents pertaining to things such as what kind of training has been given to officers in the use of force.
Keller said all her father wanted at first was an apology from Hamm. “What he did was wrong in anybody’s eyes,” she said.
But now Loy wants an apology and hopes the suit will make sure this kind of behavior doesn’t continue, she said.
Keller asked if the officers truly thought Loy was assaulting or threatening them, why wasn’t he charged with that offense.
The Salisbury Post published a feature story on Loy two years ago when he celebrated his 90th birthday at Salisbury Gardens.
Loy graduated from Granite Quarry High School in 1939, attended Catawba College from 1941-44, then went on to institutions such as the Clarksville School of Theology, Piedmont and Immanuel bible colleges and the Southeastern Baptist Seminary at Wake Forest University.
Loy often held weeklong tent revivals, and in 1943, organized South Albemarle Baptist Church.
Other churches followed for Loy over the next 20 years — Centerview Baptist in Albemarle, Lexington Avenue Baptist in High Point and First Baptist Church in Locust, where he stayed from 1955 to 1965.
Loy led four church building programs as a pastor. He wrote two widely circulated booklets: “The Gospel Tide” and “Anchors for the Soul.”
His WSAT (Salisbury) radio show in the 1950s was called, “The Word of Life.” He wrote some newspaper sermons for the Salisbury Post in the 1970s.
Loy and his wife, Dot, have been married almost 68 years.
Loy loved to fish — many times at City Park. He also flew a Piper Cub airplane and rode a vintage Indian motorcycle.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.