PATASKALA, Ohio (WCMH) — A lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in Columbus accuses two Licking County sheriff’s deputies and two Pataskala police officers of violating the constitutional rights of a disabled veteran — as well as of battery, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, civil trespass and criminal conduct.
The attorney for Marine Cpl. Milroy Cort said his client was violently pulled from his wheelchair, handcuffed and then jailed for doing something he had every legal right to do: asking the law officers to get off his property.
Cort, his wife and 11 children lost their home to a fire several years ago. Years before that, Cort lost his legs on the battlefield in Iraq. Firefighters who volunteer with the charity Tunnels to Tower came to Licking County to build the family’s house.
A property line survey made at the time of the build showed his neighbor’s backyard fence on the property.
When he was recently clearing trees in his backyard — near the fence — to make a community garden, his neighbor started screaming at him.
“Knowing I didn’t damage anything, I was taken aback by it,” Cort said in an interview.
Minutes later, a deputy was in the neighbor’s yard talking to the woman who lived there. The deputy then began to call out to Cort, telling him to come over. Cort said he would talk to the deputy through the fence, but he did not want the deputy coming onto his property.
Cort — who has physical and emotional battlefield scars — said he was shaken when that deputy, without a warrant, called for back-up and came into Cort’s backyard. Cort was soon surrounded and blocked in by a deputy and two Pataskala police officers.
“I just got louder and louder,” Cort said. “If three bears are on your property, you have to make as much noise as you possibly can to get them off, but these bears were armed — so me making that much noise didn’t go in my favor.”
Cort tried to move beyond the deputies and go into his house, but one deputy stopped him, with a foot on the wheel of his wheelchair.
And then, Cort was on the ground in handcuffs — with law enforcement’s knees on his back.
“As if he were a threat. He’s got no mobility,” attorney Fred Gittes said in an interview. “They have absolutely no threat here.”
For something stemming from a civil matter — arguments over a fence — Gittes said this never should have happened to Cort.
“There are two views of justice — and one is applied to people of color, and one is applied to people who are white,” Gittes said.
Cort was taken to jail and held for three days. A friend dropped off his wheelchair.
Since then, all of the charges against him were dropped. Cort said filing the lawsuit serves as a lesson for his children, too.
“I tell them to be accountable for everything. If you make a decision, be accountable. That’s why I still smile in a wheelchair. I knew the bad that could come from war, but you have to keep smiling. There’s no need to become bitter, there is no need to hate anyone. You just have to continue,” Cort said.
The Licking County Prosecutor’s Office and Pataskala Police did not respond to NBC4 request for comment. The Licking County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment.