A trial date for a federal lawsuit against Bartholomew County officials over the investigation into a 2013 shooting death has been postponed for a year to give attorneys more time to prepare.
In a joint agreement approved by the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, attorneys in the Logan Owsley federal court case have moved the trial from Jan. 9, 2017, to Jan. 22, 2018, federal court documents state.
Judge Richard L. Young has allowed a 15-day span for the trial in Indianapolis.
Since the case is still in the discovery stage, there is still much work to do before trial, said Trent McCain, a Merrillville attorney who represents plaintiff Logan Owsley of Columbus. Depositions of all the defendants and witnesses are expected to take several months, McCain said.
Litigation in the case has been ongoing since it was filed April 7, 2015, by attorneys for Logan Owsley exactly two years after the death of his father, Cary Owsley.
The Owsley lawsuit alleges obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice based on discrimination, failure to intervene, hindering access to courts and intentional infliction of emotional distress in the aftermath of the investigation into Cary Owsley’s death, originally ruled a suicide by Bartholomew County Coroner Larry Fisher.
Logan Owsley filed the lawsuit against then-Bartholomew County Sheriff Mark E. Gorbett; current and former deputies Ernest DeWayne Janes Sr., Dean A. Johnson, Christie L. Nunemaker, Brent E. Worman, William R. Kinman Jr. and Christopher M. Roberts; as well as Fisher.
Cary Owsley, 49, was found dead from a gunshot wound April 7, 2013, in his home in Zephyr Village outside of Columbus that he shared with his wife, Lisa. The investigation by the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department and Fisher concluded the death was a suicide, prompting Prosecutor Bill Nash to close the case in July 2013.
The suicide determination was challenged by Cary Owsley’s sister, Cheryl Jackson, who said Bartholomew County officials botched the investigation and lost and mishandled much of the evidence that could prove Cary Owsley was killed.
County officials added more legal representation in June, hiring Elizabeth A. Knight and the law firm of Knight, Hoppe, Kurnik and Knight LTD, Schererville. Knight has declined to comment about the case, saying she does not comment on pending litigation.
In February, McCain was joined in representing Logan Owsley by the Chicago legal firm of Loevy and Loevy, a civil rights firm.
While the federal court case continues, the two sides in the Owsley case now are also litigating a new case in Marion County Superior Court’s probation division over Logan Owsley’s status as an heir in the Cary Owsley estate to any proceeds from the federal lawsuit.Knight confirmed that the Bartholomew County defendants have intervened in a February probate filing from Logan Owsley, which opened an estate for Cary Owsley with a limited purpose.
Special Judge Richard Poynter ruled Feb. 10 in Bartholomew Circuit Court that the Cary Owsley estate locally should be closed and his son could keep the federal lawsuit as abandoned property from the estate. This ruling allowed Logan Owsley to have standing in his federal lawsuit, his attorneys said.
Now, attorneys for the Bartholomew County defendants have challenged the Marion County estate filing, asking to intervene and requesting that the estate proceedings be dismissed, court documents state.
A hearing on that motion, which would determine if Logan Owsley retains standing in the estate, had been set for Thursday, but was continued, McCain said.
“We’re fighting on a couple different fronts,” McCain said.
In a motion filed Sept. 16 in the federal case, the Bartholomew County officials provided 14 amended defenses describing why Logan Owsley’s lawsuit should be dismissed, including alleging that he lacks proper standing to bring the claims set forth in the complaint.
Through their attorneys, the county officials also allege that under Indiana state law, government officials are generally immune for losses which occur within the scope and course of their employment under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, court documents state.
They also contend the loss suffered by Logan Owsley was the result of, or an act by, an individual other than the government entity — Bartholomew County — or the county’s employees and that Logan Owsley fails to state a plausible claim under which relief can be granted.
McCain said if the Marion County probate court dismisses Logan Owsley’s estate case, it could affect his standing in the federal court case. There is some case law, however, that provides a surviving heir can bring a federal lawsuit, not just an estate, McCain said.
“We are confident about our legal position in Marion County Probate Court. We will argue that position on Nov. 1 and await the court’s ruling. If, for some reason, the court grants the (federal lawsuit) defendants’ petition to intervene and motion to dismiss, then we will evaluate what our next steps are at that time,” he said.
A hearing about Logan Owsley status in the probate case for the late Cary Owsley, his father, has been set for 10 a.m. Nov. 1 in Marion County Superior Court’s probate division in Indianapolis.