Disabled veteran claims harassment over metal implants

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by Diane Moca

ELKHORN -- A disabled veteran is fighting back after he says he was mistreated for simple freedom of speech, yet law enforcement said he was speaking too freely in a public place.

The controversy centers around a metal detector, which many people expect to see when they approach an airport or courthouse.

But not David Patterman. He says the first time he ever went through a metal detector was a few months ago at the Walworth County Judicial Center.

"I don't travel anywhere, never been to the airport and don't know if I could handle the anxiety," explained Patterman, who says he rarely goes far from his custom leather shop in Elkhorn where he works and lives.

But the process of walking through the magnetometer at the entrance to the judicial center jolted Patterman's anxiety.

"He was treating me like I had a gun on me. I didn't have nothing on me," noted Patterman.

Patterman says he didn't understand why the guard made him go through the metal detector over and over, harassing him and treating him like a criminal.

"He says, 'You're not coming in here unless you get all the metal off your body.' I said, 'That's impossible. That'll never happen,' added Patterman.

Patterman says he spent three years in a military hospital while doctors put him back together with metal parts in his ankles, knees and mouth.

"I was a paratrooper in Vietnam, and my chute didn't open," he recalled.

Instead of an apology, the veteran got a ticket for expressing his frustration.

"I was putting my belt back on, and I said, 'This is F-ing bull**** the way you treat me," insisted Patterman.

Security Guard Kenneth Deakins says he was just doing his job when he and a nearby cleaning lady were offended by Patterman's foul language.

"I remember the word F-U-** at least twice, and I remember the word ***damn at least once or twice also," stated the guard.

So Deakins said he called the Walworth County Sheriff's department, and several deputies found Patterman in the building and cited him for disorderly conduct.

"I said, 'For what?' He says, 'Did you cuss out that officer downstairs?' I said, 'No, I didn't cuss him out. I stated a fact,'" said Patterman. "A lot of people when they talk, they use profanity. So why should I talk any different than the way I always talk?"

So Patterman went to court twice to fight the ticket -- a move fellow veterans support.

"He served our country. We should give him, not preferential treatment, but treat him well," noted Jim MacInnes, former Air Force Airman First Class.

MacInnes can relate, because he says his artificial joints also set off metal detectors every time he passes through them.

"When I tell them I have artificial joints, they can easily let me walk through and then wand me. But they make me go through twice, question me," explained MacInnes. "It definitely annoys me, for sure, because I've already told them. I even have a card to show them."

MacInnes says he carries a card from his doctor in his wallet explaining that the metal in his body will likely set off the detector. But even when he shows it, he says security guards still give him a bad attitude and make him walk through the machine multiple times before using the wand.

He says that kind of treatment happens to him "every time."

"So I know exactly what's going to happen. But if it was my first time, and I'd never been through a metal detector, yeah, I'd be kind of scared," he noted.

But none of that seemed to matter in Patterman's court battle.

"The court believes the defendant did engage in profane conduct, and it did cause a disturbance," summarized Judge David Reddy. "I therefore find you guilty of this citation."

The judge sided with the law student intern who argued the case, a common practice for ordinance violations according to District Attorney Dan Necci.

Necci refused to talk about the case on camera, but told CBS 58 that his office had the discretion to drop the ticket and chose not to, because "case law has been settled" on disorderly conduct charges for public profanity and "a donation to the county is appropriate."

Patterman says he talked to a couple local police officers before the trial, and they told him the case was really about money.

Patterman says prosecutors offered a reduced fine of $143 if he pled guilty at his first court appearance and told him he would face a stiffer fine if he tried to fight the citation at a trial.

"Walworth County is doing everything they can to come up with revenue right now," explained Patterman.

He said he didn't want to plead guilty because he didn't believe he broke the law. He said he realized on the day of the trial that he was facing an uphill battle.

Patterman says he saw prosecutors meet in a private room with the security guard, the cleaning lady and the deputy before the court proceeding began "and made sure everyone had their story" consistent in order to assure a win.

But Patterman fought the case because he felt the loss of his freedom to speak his mind is a much greater cost than the $365 fine eventually imposed by the judge.

Patterman says he went to the courthouse originally because his doctor told him to get copies of his divorce papers in light of his deteriorating health, including emphysema and open heart surgery. But he says he didn't end up getting the papers because the clerk told him she had no access to records from 35 years ago.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, send an email to dmoca@cbs58.com.



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