City councilman agrees to pretrial diversion program

Deal could drop charge

Columbus City Councilman Dascal D. Bunch has accepted a pretrial diversion agreement that if completed successfully will result in prosecutors dismissing a misdemeanor count of public indecency filed against him earlier this year.

Bunch, 61, of 221 S. Brooks St., was accused of exposing himself on Jan. 12 to a next-door neighbor who looked out a window toward his east-side home.

The pretrial diversion agreement, which was reached between Bunch and Special Prosecutor Brian Belding, the Jennings County prosecutor, was filed with Bartholomew Superior Court II on Aug. 8.

Belding was named as special prosecutor after Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash recused himself, citing a potential conflict.

Superior Court II Judge Kathleen “Kitty” Tighe Coriden also recused herself from the case, which was later assigned to Jennings County Circuit Court Judge Jon W. Webster.

The agreement calls for Bunch to pay $333 to the pretrial diversion program and to obtain a mental health assessment by a licensed mental health care provider while in pretrial diversion, which is scheduled to conclude Dec. 29.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Bunch said he has already complied with both requirements and continued to assert his innocence.

“There was no need to go to jury trial. It would cost a lot of money for me and for the taxpayers,” he said.

Bunch said there were two pretrial diversion offers made to him, the first in April, and then the one he accepted, in June.

He said the first offer, which would have required him to have the mental health evaluation and resign his position from the Columbus City Council, showed that the allegations made against him were politically motivated.

When he rejected that offer and began lining up people for depositions in preparation for jury trial, the second offer came without the resignation requirement, he said.

“I made sure that I am not admitting to anything,” Bunch said of the allegations. “I guarantee we would have won at trial. The one thing I can’t get back is my name they smeared all over Indiana.”

Bunch, a Republican, was elected to the Columbus City Council in 2011 and re-elected last year.

Belding said pretrial diversion was always something that was being considered for the Bunch case.

As the prosecutor, Belding said he considers the age of the defendant and whether there is any criminal history when deciding who might be eligible for pretrial diversion. In Bunch’s case, there was no criminal history, he said.

As far as the first pretrial diversion offer, Belding said there was discussion about Bunch resigning, but it was never something he put in writing and never put it formally on the table for Bunch to consider. “That was not for me to decide,” he said.

Belding said he often consults with the person filing the complaint in pretrial diversion discussions, but in this case the neighbor was not consulted, as it was the lowest level of a misdemeanor case that could only result in a maximum of 30 days in jail.

The prosecutor said pretrial diversion is becoming more common for cases in which an individual has no criminal history, and any prosecutor would have offered the program in circumstances such as Bunch’s case.

Bunch was accused of being naked in his home and exposing himself to the neighbor who was looking out a window while getting ready for work at about 7:20 a.m. Jan. 12, the probable-cause affidavit states. Initially, the Columbus Police Department responded to the neighbor’s complaint. Columbus Police Chief Jon Rohde said he requested that Indiana State Police investigate the incident because Bunch is a city councilman.

In March and November of 2015, the neighbor took pictures of Bunch exposing himself while he was naked in his home, the probable-cause affidavit stated. The neighbor told police that several times while backing a vehicle out of the garage Bunch could be seen naked through the window — the neighbor honking the car horn so Bunch knew someone was seeing him, the probable-cause affidavit states.

When Indiana State Police asked Bunch whether it was a common practice for him to walk around his house naked with the blinds open, Bunch replied absolutely not, according to the affidavit.

Bunch said he has had no contact with the neighbor who made the complaint about the allegations.

What is a pre-trial diversion agreement

A pre-trial diversion agreement is an agreement between a prosecutor and defendant that allows the defendant to have a charge dismissed in exchange for completing conditions of a diversion program. If the defendant complies with the terms of the pre-trial diversion agreement, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the case.

Most pre-trial diversion agreements are for six months to one year. Defendants commonly agree they will not commit any criminal offenses or infractions during the agreement time period and will notify the prosecutor of any changes in address, employment or contact information.

The defendant also pays a pre-trial diversion program user fee. If the terms of the agreement are completed successfully, the prosecutor agrees to dismiss the case against the defendant after the time period is completed.

Prosecutors consider criminal history, the nature of the crime and whether a defendant could benefit by mandated services offered through the diversion program when considering who qualifies for pre-trial diversion.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.