CANTON, Ga. - Former cop Shane Ladner said in a video deposition he did not remember the names of any soldiers who served with him in combat who could back up his Purple Heart claim.
Ladner is on trial in Cherokee County, accused of lying to investigators about his war wound story and collecting four years’ worth of tax-free license plates for his pickup truck.
The video deposition took place in 2015 after Ladner sued FOX5 over our original reporting. That case was dismissed but Ladner has filed an appeal.
In the deposition, Ladner insisted he was wounded during a top secret mission in central or South America in 1991 when he was an 18-year-old military police officer fresh out of boot camp.
"I woke up and there was a Purple Heart on my pillow," he told our attorney Cynthia Counts. "I was approached by someone in a-- who I assumed was a Colonel. He was in a colonel's uniform. I was instructed on the sensitivity of our missions. I was reminded of my nondisclosure paperwork and I was told that if anyone asked I was injured in Panama."
The case came to light after a FOX 5 I-Team investigation in 2013 poked holes in Ladner's original war story that he was wounded in the Invasion of Panama. School records we obtained showed at the time Operation Just Cause had ended, Ladner was still in a Mississippi high school.
Yet the Panama story was the essay Ladner wrote when he won a free hunting trip to Texas in 2012, an honor reserved for wounded veterans.
"So that was a lie, correct?" asked attorney Counts in the deposition.
"I was not in Operation Just Cause." Ladner replied.
"Do you have a problem with the word lie?"
"I don't have a problem with it per se, but I don't like to necessarily like to say I'm a liar."
"Okay, but nevertheless it's a lie correct?"
"It was an inaccurate statement, yes," Ladner stated.
That hunting trip led to a tragic accident, a train striking a parade float full of veterans and their wives. Four servicemen died. Shane's wife Meg lost her left leg.
After the FOX 5 I-Team began asking questions, Ladner offered the secret jungle mission explanation in an interview with Cherokee County Sheriff's investigators also played in court. But prosecutors told the jury there's no record in Ladner's official military files that he ever served in combat.
FBI special agent Mark Sewell assisted Cherokee authorities with their criminal investigation.
He tracked down Ladner's military medical records both before and after the time he claimed a grenade explosion left him with a six-inch shrapnel wound that required stitches and light duty. That was supposedly in January, 1991. But the medical documents consistently showed only scars for an appendix operation at age 16 and a hernia operation at age eight. No shrapnel wound scar.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Rachelle Carnesale asked special agent Sewell about a February 13, 1991 visit to the clinic by Ladner.
"So on that day was Mr. Ladner in the hospital having his stitches checked?"
"No. It shows he was being treated for turning an ankle while running," replied Sewell.
In fact, Ladner's medical records produced in court describe only minor issues. During the time he was supposedly on a series of secret missions throughout 1991, he was treated for a Plexiglas window falling on his hand, a twisted ankle after stepping off a sidewalk, and a hurt nose when the door in his dorm room hit him in the face.
Ladner does have what he says is a military record showing a Purple Heart, even though the military says there's no evidence that document exists in his official file.
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