ATLANTA (AP) — An ex-police officer from Georgia who was injured in a train accident during a veterans parade in Texas is accused of lying about receiving a Purple Heart medal and was arrested Wednesday, Cherokee County sheriff's officials said.
Former Holly Springs police officer Shane Ladner, 40, was never awarded a Purple Heart and is charged with four counts of theft by deception, false swearing and giving a false statement to police, Cherokee County Sheriff's Lt. Jay Baker said.
Ladner presented a military discharge form claiming that he was the recipient of the honor when he applied for a free Purple Heart license plate in 2009, Baker said, adding that Army officials have no record of the form that Ladner presented to get the plate.
Ladner and his wife, Meg, were among those injured in a mid-November train crash in Midland, Texas, that killed four people. One of Meg Ladner's legs had to be amputated.
The Ladners made the trip to the west Texas city to participate in an annual event that honors wounded military veterans with a parade, a banquet, a hunting trip and more. The event was organized by Midland-based Show of Support.
It's unclear whether Ladner provided the event's organizers with the same discharge form authorities say he used to get the free license plate. A call to the organization Wednesday afternoon was not returned.
To get the free Purple Heart license plate, Ladner was required to swear that he was a recipient of the honor and went through a renewal process to keep the plate for the next three years, Baker said.
"He benefited financially all four years — that's where the four charges of theft by deception come from," Baker said, adding the charge of giving false statements to police "stems from an interview in which investigators feel he lied."
Sheriff's officials said they only investigated Ladner's application for the free license plate, not the Army discharge form he used to get it.
The Stolen Valor Act, which was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama, made it a crime to fabricate military honors with the intent of benefiting personally or financially. The crime is punishable by fines, up to a year in prison or both.
A spokesman for the U.S. District Attorney in Atlanta said federal officials were not involved in the case as of Wednesday.
Ladner was in the Army between 1990 and 1994 and reached the rank of sergeant. He served for a year in Honduras, according to Army human resources officials. He transferred to the Army Reserve and was discharged in 1997 after completing his service obligation. After that, he served in the Army National Guard between 1999 and 2005.
Ladner was a recipient of nine different military awards, including the Army Achievement Medal, two National Defense Service Medals and the Humanitarian Service Medal, according to Army officials.
Nothing in Ladner's files or in the Army awards branch includes a record of him receiving a Purple Heart, or any documentation proving that he's entitled to one, officials said.
Ladner's Texas-based attorney, John Cook, said in a statement that his client did receive the military honor and would be owed an apology when all the information comes to light.
"We're disappointed that law enforcement authorities felt the need to arrest Shane Ladner today, especially in the manner that it happened, a traffic stop on the side of the road," Cook said. "This arrest serves no purpose other than to continue to traumatize Shane and Meg Ladner, both of whom are still recovering from last year's train accident."
Ladner was taken to the Cherokee County jail on $23,100 bond, which his wife posted Wednesday evening.