ROOTSTOWN, Ohio -- Less than a month after he was set on fire while serving a warrant, an injured Portage County sheriff’s deputy says he did what had to be done. Sergeant James Acklin spoke out publicly for the first time since the attack.
Sgt. Acklin walked into the cafeteria at Rootstown Elementary School to lots of smiles and a big round of applause Saturday afternoon.
"I just want to say thanks for the community support," he told the crowd of supporters.
This was the first public appearance for the Portage County sheriff's deputy since he was burned over 20% of his body on February 7.
"I don't have any regrets about what happened that night, you know, we were doing a warrant. We were doing a job, getting somebody out of the neighborhood here that didn't need to belong here, and that's what we did," said Sgt. Acklin.
February 7, deputies were trying to serve felony warrants to a man at a home on State Route 44 in Rootstown. Investigators say 49-year-old Jay Edward Brannon lit a can of flammable liquid and threw it, striking Sgt. Acklin.
"The lieutenant right here, put his hand up. He was one of those that jumped on me and got the fire out," he explained.
"Our motto is 'We serve,' so when this brutality happened to one of our county deputies, we had to do something," said Joe Paulus, acting president of the Rootstown Lions Club.
Hundreds in the community attended a spaghetti dinner fundraiser to help Sgt. Acklin and his family during his recovery. In addition to the food, the event included a few raffles and music.
"A lot of donations on top of people buying, so I don't even know what the number -- I couldn't even say how much it's gonna be. We're hoping it's gonna be at least $5,000," Paulus said.
Sgt. Acklin is recovering from skin grafts on his left arm and leg and other burns. He hopes to be healed by the end of the month.
"That's why these guys are heroes, so you know, he's our local hero," said Paulus.
"There's truly a lot of good people, there really is...really is," said Sgt. Acklin, as his voice was cracking with emotion.
Sgt. Acklin is set to retire on April 30 of this year after 25 years with the Portage County Sheriff’s Department. He said his goal is to return to work in time to get back on patrol for a few weeks before he hangs up his uniform.
Brannon, the man accused of burning him, is behind bars, is facing charges of attempted murder and arson.