A trial date in a federal civil lawsuit against Bartholomew County officials over the death of Cary Owsley is scheduled for early 2017.

Owsley died at age 49 from a gunshot wound to the chest on April 7, 2013, that was ruled a suicide by Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher.

However, the victim’s sister, Cheryl Jackson, challenged that ruling and suggested that the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department covered up evidence that shows Owsley was killed.

One argument specified in earlier local court filings by Jackson was that former Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy E. DeWayne Janes Sr. — who was divorced from Cary Owsley’s wife, Lisa Owsley — was allowed onto the premises and handled evidence at the death scene.

Janes resigned a year ago after he went against then-Sheriff Mark Gorbett’s orders not to involve himself in any further investigations regarding his ex-wife and children. Deputy Janes intervened after allegations of intimidation and harassment against Lisa Owsley and their sons were made by a neighbor in August 2014.

Cary Owsley’s son, Logan A. Owsley, filed the federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis against Fisher, Gorbett and six current or former deputies.

Federal authorities have up to five years to file criminal charges in the case, said Mark McNeely of Shelbyville, attorney for Lisa Owsley.

The litigation before federal magistrate Mark J. Dinsmore in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis asserts that Logan Owsley, who is black — as was his father — was deprived of his constitutional rights.

The suit against Fisher, Gorbett and the six deputies claims:

Obstruction of justice.

Conspiracy to obstruct justice based on invidious discrimination.

Failure to intervene.

Hindering access to courts and right to seek remedy.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Neglect and infliction of emotional distress.

Claiming the county defendants acted with fraud, oppression and malice, Logan Owsley is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees from the eight defendants in a jury trial. Logan Owsley is being represented by attorney Trent McCain of Merrillville, who also represented Jackson during her earlier cases in Bartholomew Circuit Court.

Grant Tucker withdrew as attorney for the defendants on May 15 and was replaced by Jeff Beck. Two attorneys from Bloomington — Jeremy Dilts and Edward Liptak — also are representing the defendants.

Court calendar shuffle

On July 10, a motion to dismiss Logan Owsley’s federal lawsuit was filed by Dilts on behalf of all the defendants. A few days later, Dinsmore scheduled a status conference for Nov. 5.But Dinsmore did not make a decision then regarding the request to thrown the case out, according to court records. Instead, the judge scheduled a settlement conference for Dec. 11 that was canceled by agreement of both sides.While a new conference has not been scheduled, the lack of an out-of-court settlement is expected keep the lawsuit on the court’s agenda for quite some time.

Dinsmore has scheduled the final pretrial conference for the end of next year: 2 p.m. Dec. 29, 2016. The tentative trial date is set for 9 a.m. Jan. 9, 2017.

Since the matter is complicated by having eight defendants, McCain said he’s not surprised by the delays.

“We also have to contend with a probate action in state court that has been pending for over nine months,” McCain said.

Although McCain said the wait is hard on Logan Owsley and Jackson, they remain committed to seeing it through to the end.

The federal lawsuit also is affected by legal action pending in Bartholomew County.

Jackson has twice petitioned Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann to have Lisa Owsley removed as personal representative of her brother’s estate.

However, Lisa Owsley told the judge she didn’t want to give up that position because Jackson had made it clear she intends to file a lawsuit against her, as well as her family, if allowed to represent her late husband’s estate.

The judge has twice ruled against Jackson’s request. During the final consideration in spring, Heimann said Jackson’s attorney, McCain, offered only speculation that lacked facts regarding possible foul play suggested in Cary Owsley’s shooting death.

However, Logan Owsley filed his own petition May 7, asking that either he or Jackson be appointed special administrator.

Heimann recused himself and appointed Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter to serve as special judge to hear Logan Owsley’s case. Poynter has scheduled a hearing on the matter for 2 p.m. Jan. 20.

Lisa Owsley testified during an April 3 hearing in Bartholomew Circuit Court she won’t file litigation in connection with her late husband’s death.

But an attorney who represented Logan Owsley last spring, Curtis Shirley of Indianapolis, said if either Jackson or Logan Owsley were allowed to represent Cary Owsley’s estate instead of his widow, it would place Logan Owsley in a stronger position regarding his federal lawsuit.

Defendants

The following individuals are named as defendants in a federal lawsuit filed by Logan A. Owsley:

  • Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher
  • Former Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark Gorbett
  • Former deputy E. Dwayne Janes Sr.
  • Former deputy and current Hartsville town marshal Christie L. Nunemaker
  • Sheriff’s detective Christopher M. Roberts.
  • Sheriff’s detective William R. Kinman Jr.
  • Deputy Dean A. Johnson
  • Deputy Brent E. Worman

What's next?

Special Judge Richard W. Poynter of Jackson County has scheduled a hearing concerning Logan A. Owsley’s request to have Lisa Owsley removed as personal representative of the estate of his late father, Cary Owsley, for 2 p.m. Jan. 20 in Bartholomew Circuit Court.

The tentative jury trial date for Logan A. Owsley’s lawsuit in U.S. Circuit Court in Indianapolis is currently set for 9 a.m. Jan. 9, 2017, before Magistrate Judge Mark J. Dinsmore. 

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.