Cherokee District Attorney Shannon Wallace confirmed Tuesday that the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office is opening an investigation into allegations that surfaced Monday in a Fox 5 News report that former Officer Shane Ladner allegedly falsified his military record to show he earned a Purple Heart during his service.
Ladner and his wife, Meg Ladner, participated in a parade last November sponsored by a Texas-based nonprofit, which also provided honorees with an all-expenses paid whitetail deer hunt.
The celebratory weekend was cut short when a Union Pacific train collided with the parade float carrying the Ladner couple, killing four and injuring 16, including Meg Ladner, who lost her left leg.
Wallace said she discussed the situation with Holly Springs Police Chief Ken Ball Tuesday morning.
“As a result, I have asked the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department to open an investigation into this matter,” Wallace said in an email. “Sheriff (Roger) Garrison has agreed to open an investigation. If the Sheriff’s Department determines that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed, the matter will be referred to my office for prosecution.”
Garrison confirmed his office will look into the allegations.
“We have been in communication with the district attorney’s office and Tax Commissioner Sonya Little’s office today and we’re going to look into Mr. Ladner’s receiving of his Purple Heart (car) tag, of which he pays no ad valorem tax on,” Garrison said. “We’ll be looking to see what we find and present that to the district attorney’s office.”
Holly Springs Police Chief Ken Ball said Monday he also notified the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorney General’s Office of the situation.
“Allegations arose three to four weeks ago that Shane gave false information to get into the parade and he did not have a Purple Heart,” Ball said. “Other than talk we have no evidence at this time.”
Ball said that his office had attempted to contact the military to get details of Ladner’s record since the allegations arose.
Ball said that when an applicant with military experience applies with the police department proof of an honorable discharge must be provided and that Ladner did provide that form and it was verified with the military.
“Whether he had a Purple Heart and his actual service record are not a part of that process,” Ball said.
Ladner was on 12 weeks of paid leave following the accident and another 12 weeks without pay, but still held a position with the police department until April 5, Ball said.
When that time was up, Ball said the department attempted to make contact with Ladner and his attorney, but after failing to reach either, sent a certified letter on April 5 that he was no longer employed and the department opted to fill his vacant position.
Over the last several months, a handful of fundraising events were held in the couples’ name to raise money to pay for Meg Ladner’s medical expenses, including a pancake breakfast and golf tournament. She recovered for several months at Atlanta Medical Center after the parade float she and her husband were riding on was hit by an oncoming train injuring 16 others and killing four.
Friend and event organizer Julie Klein Cassidy said Monday the allegations made by Fox 5 News, whose report will run tonight at 10 p.m., are “terribly unfair.” She said she nor the Ladners wanted to comment further.
According to an initial release from Holly Springs police prior to the parade, Ladner served as an Army police officer and was twice wounded in combat, which ultimately led to his retirement from active duty. The release also stated he was given “awards for valor” in times of warfare.
A statement from Ladner’s attorney, Kevin Glasheen, states Ladner was stationed in Honduras when he was injured during a grenade attack while on patrol in a drug interdiction mission, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart.
“Shane was instructed to say that he suffered his wounds during Operation Just Cause in Panama rather than when and where the events actually occurred because of the sensitive nature of the military’s involvement in drug interdiction in that region,” the statement said.
Glasheen in the statement that said Ladner’s Army records in St. Louis are “apparently incomplete” and did not contain the DD 214, a form indicating details of Ladner’s service, issued by Fort Benning.
“We have requested Shane Ladner’s service records from Ft. Benning, Georgia where the Purple Heart award should be found in their base records,’ the statement said. “We have also requested Shane’s medical records from the hospital in Panama where he was treated following the grenade attack.”
Glasheen added it is “irresponsible and reckless” to publicly question Ladner’s records before the official records from Fort Benning and medical records from the Veteran’s Administration have been received.