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Reserve officer loses job for carrying gun on school grounds

By Kelli Stopczynski
Published On: Feb 10 2014 05:21:16 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 10 2014 05:53:09 PM CST

An Elkhart County reserve officer lost his job at Concord Community Schools after carrying a gun on school property. WSBT's Kelli Stopczynski has the Fact Finder story.

ELKHART COUNTY -

Should a sworn police officer be allowed to carry a gun on school property if he's working there as a private citizen? A former grounds keeper for Concord Community Schools says his status as an Elkhart County reserve officer means he can.

But the Concord superintendent says that officer violated school policy and broke the law.

On January 28, Rick Ball went into work at Concord. All of the corporation’s schools were closed because of weather, but as a grounds worker he still had to be there. That same day, Ball was involved in a car accident in a school vehicle and that’s when his boss found out Ball was carrying a gun.

That supervisor reported the firearm to the school superintendent who met with Ball at the end of the week and told him he would either be fired or forced to resign.

“I feel like I’ve done nothing wrong,” Ball said.

As an Elkhart County Sheriff’s reserve deputy, Ball has a badge and gun and can arrest anyone at anytime. The only thing that makes him different from other deputies is the fact that he’s not paid for any of his service to the department – it’s all volunteer work.

But he didn’t think those police powers would have a negative impact on his job at Concord schools.

“If a situation would arise where we have an active shooter or something, we have to be prepared because I’m required to go in and help take care of it,” he explained, saying he’s been trained for active shooter situations.

Ball said he almost always kept his gun in his personal car while on school property, but on January 26 he responded to a domestic violence call before going to work at Concord. He said he put the .380 revolver in his coat pocket for that call then didn’t think to take it out before returning to work Monday.

“Law enforcement people are allowed to have [weapons] on them on school grounds but it would have to be approved by our school board,” explained Concord Superintendent Wayne Stubbs. “This is not a situation where that was approved.”

But the school had hired Ball as a police officer in the past. Last school year, for example, it paid him to drive a squad car and wear a gun and badge during a school shooting threat.

“I think the bottom line is, there’s a process to go through. That process was not done. We didn’t approach him, he didn’t approach us,” Stubbs said. “He’s not hired by Concord Community Schools as a police officer. He was hired as a building and grounds employee. We have a resource officer that’s hired for that position.”

The superintendent said he’s talked with the school corporation’s attorney and school board members, who are comfortable with their interpretation of the law.

“It’s troubling in this day and age that we would have that type of policy and mentality,” said Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers, who added he will not intervene in a hiring and firing situation.

But Rogers said he is frustrated with the school corporation’s interpretation of the law.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me,” he continued.

State law allows Rogers to limit reserve officers’ powers, but he said he has not done that with Ball, who is one of 22 reserves on the department. Ball and the other reserves have gone through the same training as paid deputies do.

Ball estimates he volunteers between 300 and 400 hours of his time to the department each year.

WSBT checked with South Bend Community School Corporation and Penn Harris Madison schools about this same issue – can off duty police officers carry weapons on school property if they’re there as a private citizen? Both said they would need to refer the matter to their attorneys.