By Liz Shepherd
WARSAW — Three witnesses testified Wednesday, July 15, during the opening day of testimony in a civil trial for a lawsuit involving a shooting death that occurred in 2014.
Among those testifying were Larry and Atta Helman, the plaintiffs who are suing for damages resulting from Gary Helman’s death. Gary is Larry’s twin brother and Atta’s son who was shot and killed by bail recovery agents in a gunfight on Aug. 25, 2014.
Attorney Bradley Colborn, who is representing the Helmans, called J.D. Ayres as the plaintiffs’ first witness. Ayres was a detective sergeant with the Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office until he retired in 2017. In his testimony, Ayres said there were several instances involving Gary Helman and the police.
“Gary was unpredictable when it came to law enforcement,” said Ayres.
He recalled one incident where the Kosciusko County SWAT team was called to serve warrants at 9174 E. Doswell Blvd., Cromwell, where Gary stayed on occasion. Ayres said the SWAT team was called “just for protection on both sides.” On Aug. 25, 2014, Ayres said he was off-duty when he received a call to investigate a shooting incident at the Cromwell home. Ayres completed interviews with Tadd Martin, Daniel Foster and Michael Thomas, the three bail recovery agents who went to the home.
A GoPro video from Foster’s perspective was submitted as evidence to the court. The video shows Foster outside of the residence and communicating via radio with both Thomas and Martin while they discuss how to handle the situation. Foster then is shown knocking on the door of the residence and yelling that “there’s a warrant for Gary Helman.”
Gunfire exchange is heard and Foster is shown dragging an injured Martin away from the house. Ayres said there was no footage from Martin’s GoPro because Martin thought he was turning his camera on when he was actually shutting it off. Thomas did not have a GoPro at the scene.
An audio interview between Atta and KCSO Detective Todd Sauter was also played in court. In the interview, Atta said she was not aware of any active warrants for Gary and did not know about any guns in the residence. She also couldn’t recall who shot first.
“They just walked in without knocking,” said Atta in the interview. “There’s no warrant for Gary. There was no warrant.”
An audio interview between Gary and former local reporter Stacey Staley was played for the jury. Staley was in contact with the bail recovery agents to assist in apprehending Gary. She set up an interview with Gary and gave the bail recovery agents information about Gary’s whereabouts within the residence.
In the interview with Staley, Gary discussed several experiences with both law enforcement officers and the judicial system. He explained an incident that allegedly occurred in April 2009 where officers surrounded the residence. Gary exited the residence with paperwork, which included lawsuits he had against the Indiana State Police and the Whitley County Prosecutor’s Office. Gary told Staley he gave himself up but got shot because the officers thought he had a gun in his hands.
Multiple photos from the August 2014 incident were submitted into evidence, including pictures of the Cromwell home that included “No Trespassing” signs around the house, weapons found on the property, blood throughout the house, Gary’s body, items in the vehicle that the bail recovery agents arrived in, and both Tad and Larry being put into ambulances.
In cross-examination of Ayres’ testimony, Attorney Jason Rauch, representing Lexington National Insurance Corporation, asked Ayres if he could determine if Gary shot first based on the evidence. Ayres confirmed that Gary shot first and that there were active warrants out for Gary’s arrest. Rauch also showed pictures of loaded shotguns in both Atta and Gary’s rooms, as well as two propane tanks in the home. When asked if it was all right for Martin to fear for his life based on that evidence, Ayres agreed.
Following Ayres’ testimony, Larry Helman was called to testify. Larry said he moved back to his mother’s residence in August 2014. He said Gary had been living off and on at their mother’s home due to a divorce, describing the separation as “ugly and that he had to fight to see his three children.”
“That was all he wanted, to see his kids,” said Larry.
In June 2014, Larry said he received a call from Atta about two men outside of her home with guns. Upon going to the home to investigate, Larry said Martin approached him and “threatened to taze his eyeball out.” Martin and Foster then left the property after realizing Larry was not who they were looking for.
While recalling the August 2014 shooting incident, Larry said he remembered the pain of being shot and believed Gary acted out because of him being shot.
“I was shot before anything happened in that house,” said Larry.
In cross-examination, Rauch asked Larry about the bail recovery agents. Larry said that they were wearing bulletproof vests but didn’t believe they were cops. Rauch then played a clip from Larry’s video deposition from October 2019 where Larry said they looked like cops. Rauch also noted that Larry testified that Atta never owned a shotgun but that in the deposition, Larry said he knew Atta owned a shotgun.
While cross-examining Larry on behalf of Barnett’s Bail Bonds, Attorney Jay Rigdon asked if he believed Gary should have turned himself in.
“I always told Gary, ‘Get it taken care of,'” said Larry.
Atta Helman was the final witness called to testify in today’s proceedings. In her testimony, Atta said Gary used her address as a mailing address but that he only stayed at the residence off and on because “he felt like he was being watched.”
Atta said that nobody explained to her how bail bonds worked and that no Barnett’s Bail Bonds representative explained what would happen if someone who is bonded out of jail did not show up for court. She also said she wrote a letter to Barnett’s saying that she felt they were harassing her.
In cross-examination, Rigdon asked her more about the bail bonds process. During questioning, Atta said she did not know the procedures behind the process.
“He (Gary) knew, I didn’t know,” said Atta. “I thought it was just to get him out of jail.”
Rigdon then presented the letter Atta wrote to Barnett’s Bail Bonds as evidence. In the letter, Atta wrote that in June 2014, assault and battery were committed against both her and Larry by the bail recovery agents. In a deposition conducted prior to the trial, Atta said she was not battered in June 2014.
Attorney Angela Hall, also representing Lexington National Insurance Corporation, asked Atta if she remembered signing a contingent promissory note regarding Gary’s cases. She also asked if she remembered stating in her deposition that there were two prior incidents of bonding Gary out from jail.
“By signing that, you promised that you would make sure Gary appear in court,” said Hall.
“I didn’t know,” said Atta. “I didn’t know how it worked.”
The trial will continue Thursday, July 16, in Kosciusko Circuit Court at 8:30 a.m. Plaintiffs are expected to call more witnesses to the stand.