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School, former employee tussle over definition of 'law enforcement officer'

Rick Ball, an Elkhart County reserve officer, was forced to resign from his job at Concord Community Schools because he had a gun at school.

Posted on Feb. 11, 2014 at 7:09 p.m.

ELKHART — Is he a police officer or isn't he?

That seems to be the question in a dispute between Concord Community Schools and one of its former employees. 

Rick Ball, a groundskeeper for the school district and a reserve officer for the Elkhart County Sheriff's Department, was asked to resign by the district after he brought his handgun to work Jan. 27 and 28.

Ball said he had placed his gun in his coat pocket after responding to a domestic violence call Jan. 26. He forgot about the gun, and it was still in his pocket when he went to work Jan. 27 and 28. Usually, he said, his gun is in his vehicle and not on his person.

The school district found out Ball had the gun when Ball was involved in a car accident and transported to the hospital Jan. 28. On Jan. 31, Ball met with administration about the situation. He said he was told he broke state law and a school policy, and he must resign or he would be fired.

Concord Community Schools Superintendent Wayne Stubbs said in a statement that Ball does not "meet the statutory definition of a law enforcement officer." 

"He was instead an off-duty, volunteer sheriff's reserve officer, and was not approved by school officials to have his handgun on school grounds," the statement said.

School administration also took issue with Ball leaving the coat with the gun inside unattended when he was at work for the two days. No students were around because bad weather had closed the schools, but other employees could have accessed the weapon, the corporation said.

Ball said he's confused by the schools' view that he is not a law enforcement officer, since the corporation has hired him for police duties in the past. He was hired by the school to check students' bags and patrol the high school after local schools received a threat last April.

"I have a hard time with that," Ball said about the corporation's statement. "The sheriff deputized me, and I do have police powers 24/7. They (the school corporation) has used me before as an officer. If they've used me and paid me, to me, that's considering me as an officer."

Indiana state law says possessing a firearm on school property is a felony, but it also says the law doesn't apply to "a federal, state or local law enforcement officer."

Concord's policy on weapons also specifically exempts law enforcement personnel. 

Ball said he decided to resign in hopes that a resignation would make it easier for him to get another job. He hopes to find another groundskeeping job, because he likes working outdoors. 

He said he's not sure whether he will pursue legal action against the school district. 

"I think fairly highly of their faculty and staff," he said, adding that one of his daughters had graduated from Concord and another daughter is still attending a school in the district.

Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers is stepping up to defend his deputy.

Rogers said Ball is “an outstanding officer” who has been a reserve officer at the department for 28 years, serving about 300 to 400 hours a year.

The department’s 22 reserve officers volunteered a combined total of 6,000 hours in 2013, Rogers said.

As a reserve officer, Ball has received all the training of a paid officer, taken the same oath of office and and has the same authority, Rogers said.

“He has police authority 24/7,” Rogers said.

Rogers said deputies are “highly encouraged” to carry their service weapons even when they’re off-duty.

“In this day and age with school shootings and violence in places kids are at, why wouldn't you want a fully trained officer carrying a gun who could contain the situation if confronted with that problem?” Rogers said.

“They (the school corporation) ought to stick with education, not law enforcement.”

Reporter Emily Pfund contributed to this story.




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