Charges dismissed against Etna area Marine veteran after video goes viral on TikTok
Charges against an Etna area Marine veteran in a wheelchair were dropped this week after a social media video of his encounter with policer went viral.
Originally posted on Monday by a Virginia man via TikTok, U.S. Marine Cpl. Melroy Cort is shown being detained by Licking County Sheriff's Office Deputy Alexander Caldwell after he was accused of assaulting police officers, who were called to the scene for a dispute over a damaged fence. Pataskala Division of Police Officers Johnnessa Justice and Zack Sarver were also on site for the incident that occurred on Oct. 21.
Cort lost both his legs and suffered permanent damage to his right hand, as well as a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress, four months into his deployment to Iraq in 2005.
Licking County Sheriff Randy Thorp said their administrative team reviewed over three hours of body camera footage from the call and subsequent arrest.
"I feel our officers acted appropriately, complied with the Licking County Sheriff's Office policies, and in our opinion, showed remarkable restraint with the subject," Thorp said.
Pataskala Police Chief Bruce Brooks said Wednesday afternoon he felt the city's officers did OK during the incident.
"I feel that the officers were put in a bad situation," he said.
On Oct. 21, deputy Caldwell was dispatched to a home on Georgian Drive SW in Etna for a criminal damaging/verbal disturbance call, according to a Licking County Sheriff's Office field case report. Dispatchers told the deputy there was a male tearing down the caller's fence with construction equipment and it had turned into an active verbal argument.
Because the call came in as a verbal dispute between neighbors, Licking County Sheriff's Office Col. Chad Dennis said their agency tries to send more than one officer to the scene. Dennis said none of their deputies were nearby, so they received help from Pataskala police.
After attempting to speak to Cort from across the fence, Caldwell said he and the Pataskala officers relocated to the Shannon Drive address.
Body camera footage, provided to The Advocate through a public records request, shows Cort repeatedly telling officers to get off his property. Officers are shown trying to explain why they were at his home and that they were trying to get his side of the story regarding the alleged damage.
What police body camera footage shows of the incident
In the body camera video, Cort is seen running into Sarver and Justice with his wheelchair multiple times after Sarver had stepped forward to block his path. Caldwell in his report said Sarver had attempted to step in and prevent Cort from hitting Justice.
Caldwell's report of the incident claimed Cort had used his hands to push off him and that he'd aggressively swatted at the deputy's hands. The deputy then attempted to place Cort into handcuffs. He reported Cort refused to allow the officers to place him into handcuffs and refused multiple commands to place his hands behind his back, so the officers removed Cort from his wheelchair and placed him into the grass so he could be handcuffed, then returned him to the wheelchair.
One of the officers is seen in the body camera video placing a knee on Cort's upper back while the handcuffs are being placed. The video shows the officers knee on Cort's back for less than 15 seconds.
In the video, Samantha Cort, Cort's wife, told the officers her husband didn't push Caldwell, but he'd been trying to prevent himself from falling out of his wheelchair. She also said the Pataskala officer stuck his boot in Cort's path.
Melroy Cort, in the video, also tells the officers to move and that they're in his way.
Pataskala officer Justice reported Cort spit water on Caldwell after Cort's daughter provided it for him to drink before he was taken to the Licking County Justice Center. Body camera footage shows Cort spitting water, but the direction of the water is unclear, and in the moment Cort denied spitting at the officer.
What charges were filed against U.S. Marine Cpl. Melroy Cort
Licking County court records indicate misdemeanor charges against Cort of criminal damaging/endangering, resisting arrest, failure to disclose personal information and disorderly conduct were dismissed on Wednesday without prejudice, meaning they can be refiled. According to records provided to The Advocate via a records request, a summons was issued to Cort on Oct. 24 regarding the Oct. 21 incident, initially charging him with the misdemeanors.
A court entry filed by Assistant Law Director Amy Davison on Wednesday moved to dismiss the charges filed against Cort, citing "conflicting surveys done since the filing of this charge and has led to a property line dispute." Davison said the issue is now a civil matter. Licking County Municipal Court Judge David Stansbury subsequently dismissed the charges.
Newark Law Director Tricia Moore declined to comment further on the case.
Four years ago, Cort and his wife, who have 10 children, saw their home destroyed in a fire.
In 2020, The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation of New York City and A Soldier's Journey Home teamed up to build the Cort family a new smart home in western Licking County.
The original TikTok video has over 347,000 views and over 3,800 shares. It has since been shared to other social media platforms.
A GoFundMe account established on Tuesday to cover Cort's legal fees has garnered nearly $29,000, as of Thursday afternoon.
The Cort family declined to comment on the incident at this time.