WARREN - Even though Keith Chandler's attorney says he actually qualifies for a Purple Heart and intends to petition the government to get the medal, local veterans still packed the courtroom Monday to protest against Chandler. He faces charges of lying on documents about war injuries to get free license plates.
Chandler, 33, formerly of Kinsman and now living on Willard Avenue N.E., Warren, was in Warren Municipal Court to waive two counts of tampering with records and have his case bound over to a Trumbull County grand jury. He remains free on bond.
The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles investigated the case, filing the two third-degree felonies for his applying and getting the special license plates designated for wounded war veterans.
Tribune Chronicle / Christopher Bobby
Warren Law Director Greg Hicks, a veteran himself, speaks with other vets following a preliminary hearing for Keith Chandler, who is accused of falsifying records to get free Purple Heart license plates.
A former Marine, Chandler wound up with shrapnel in one of his hands while serving in combat in Iraq from March to May 2003, his attorney, Gary Rich, said.
''He went from Kuwait to Baghdad in a tank,'' Rich said.
He said he hopes to see that his client gets court-ordered treatment in lieu of conviction for his post traumatic stress disorder.
Still, Leo Connelly Jr. of Boardman calls the actions for which Chandler is accused disrespectful:
''He wants a Purple Heart now? That's like asking for a loan after you rob the bank,'' said Connelly, a commissioner with the Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission.
''I put on plenty of tourniquets. I'm here to fight for those vets who can't be here. We want to send a message to everyone in the country, not just locally,'' said Connelly, who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 68 and serves as commander of Chapter 2, Disabled American Veterans.
Skip Cole of Champion, with the Chapter 606 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said, ''It's unacceptable. I'm not here to judge (his court case). But he dishonored his brothers and sisters. I know a lot of people who earned a Purple Heart.''
Besides free license plates in Ohio, those who earned the medal in combat also are entitled to other benefits, including discounts or scholarships from certain schools of higher education.
A former Marine recruiter who worked the downtown beat enlisting potential soldiers, Chandler lost that job and got a bad conduct discharge from the military after he was convicted in February 2006 of assault - a felony - and placed on one year probation by former Judge John M. Stuard.
He had other previous arrests on charges of domestic violence.