Grand Jury indicts former cop in Purple Heart case

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Shane Ladner (Courtesy: Cherokee County Sheriff's Office)

A Cherokee County Grand Jury indicted Shane Ladner on one felony and five misdemeanor counts involving his claim he was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries suffered in battle.

The former Holly Springs police officer said he was wounded during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 until a Fox 5 I-Team investigation revealed holes in his story.

Ladner used a dramatic biography of his supposed war injury to win a free hunting trip to Texas. That's where his wife lost her leg when a parade float from the Hunt for Heroes organization was hit by a train at a railroad crossing. Four military heroes died.

But after the crash, the Fox 5 I-Team discovered Ladner was still in high school during Operation Just Cause. Everyone agrees now Ladner's original description just wasn't true.

Ladner's attorney John Cook told us in 2013 that his client lied on his bio, but only under orders from a superior officer to cover up a different story: wounded during a top secret mission as an 18-year-old military policeman in an unnamed Central American country.

"Can you understand why it's hard for some people to believe that what Shane is telling you now is the truth when clearly he lied before?" asked Fox 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis in 2013. "I can," said attorney John Cook. "I think, I think we understand there's a credibility issue here. But can you understand when you are ordered to lie that that puts a problem in your personal life?"

Cook said a full Army Colonel ordered then-private Ladner to lie.

Cherokee County authorities originally arrested Ladner in the summer of 2013 on charges he lied about his Purple Heart to get a tax-free license plate for his truck. Ladner has always denied that and says he really was wounded in battle.

In our original investigation, Ladner produced a document called a DD-214 indicating he was a Purple Heart honoree. But the military told the Fox 5 I-Team that document does not exist in Ladner's official files, nor are there any other documents backing up his claim. Ladner says he lost his medal and all other supporting paperwork.

Cherokee County prosecutors would not comment about why it took a year and a half from the time Ladner was arrested to his indictment. During that time, though, the FBI became involved in the case. The only witness to testify before the grand jury was an FBI special agent.

The indictment lists 46 possible witnesses, including several active and retired military officers.

The indictment accuses of Ladner of getting a special tax-free Purple Heart license plate five different times. The lone felony count involves making a false statement to detectives, Ladner telling them "he was wounded by shrapnel from a grenade explosion in Central America when his unit came under hostile fire while he was on active duty in the United States Army and that he received a Purple Heart due to the injuries he suffered in Central America, contrary to the laws of this State."

Ladner's criminal attorney John Cook had no comment. Ladner filed a lawsuit against this station in 2014 claiming our original reports were false and that he really had a Purple Heart. The station is vigorously defending itself against the suit and stands by our reporting.

The attorney representing Ladner in that suit says he "remains committed to [the case against the station] and [is] confident Sergeant Ladner will be acquitted."