The former Columbus mayor has filed suit against the man she named chief of police.
Former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown filed a lawsuit Feb. 17 against Police Chief Jon Rohde, claiming he failed to comply with a public-records request for information related to a incident involving two Bartholomew County government employees, a parole supervisor and jail commander.
The lawsuit states that Brown made a records request to Rohde on Sept. 8, 2016, about an incident that occurred about two weeks prior and asked to receive a copy of all information that is required to be maintained — including the factual circumstances and description of any injuries, property or weapons involved.
The Aug. 23 incident involved Gary G. Myers and his wife, Sabrina S. Myers.
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The Columbus Police Department’s public-incident report states that it occurred in the 600 block of Volland Drive and involved alleged criminal mischief or vandalism; it was categorized in the report as a domestic disturbance. The report also lists two vehicles being involved, with one of them later identified as being owned by the sheriff’s department.
A few weeks later, the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department said that Gary Myers, the jail commander, had requested reassignment for personal reasons, and was named to oversee the road division. Sabrina Myers is employed with the county as an adult-probation supervisor, said Sandy Beatty, the county’s chief deputy auditor.
Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash said he received a report for consideration of criminal charges last year, but requested a special prosecutor. Jennings County Prosecutor Brian Belding was assigned to review the matter.
According to court records, Belding sent a letter dated Oct. 7 to Nash and Bartholomew Superior Court 2 Judge Kathleen Coriden, stating that no charges would be filed due to insufficient evidence about whether the act was intentional, and that vehicle damage was minimal and repair costs had been paid by the alleged offender.
Pursuit of information
Brown said she requested information on the incident on behalf of another local resident whose request for the same information was denied. Because of her understanding of public-access laws and the police department’s operating procedures, Brown said it was easier for her file the request.
“I don’t like to see government officials preying on the public’s understanding of state statutes and what’s public information,” Brown said.
Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act requires public agencies to respond to public-records requests made other than in person no later than seven days from the date the agency receives the request, the lawsuit states.
Brown received a public-incident document from Rohde on Sept. 26 — 11 days after the public-records deadline. However, she claims that it did not contain all the factual circumstances and descriptions of injuries, property or weapons involved.
“The incident report was insufficient public information,” Brown said.
She said additional information should be in the reporting officer’s narrative, which is standard operating procedure if there is an alleged crime. Even if some information in the narrative is redacted for investigatory purposes, a minimum amount should be public, she said.
Subsequently on Sept. 30, Brown filed a complaint with Luke Britt, Indiana’s public access counselor.
Rohde and the Columbus Police Department responded to the complaint through Columbus City Attorney Alan Whitted.
In the response to the public access counselor, the city asserted that it was not required to generate documentation about the Aug. 23 incident because no one was arrested, summoned to court or jailed. The city also asserted that no requirement existed for producing a document under state statute, so a complaint about a violation of state law is unfounded, but the public-incident report complies with state law.
The public access counselor issued an opinion Nov. 3 that sided with Brown and said that the public-incident report provided to her was insufficient to meet the standards of the public records act, and that if Columbus Police Department has more documented information then it should be provided to Brown.
Brown alleges that after the public access counselor’s ruling, the police department did not provide her with additional information about the case, even when she informed Rohde on Dec. 7 that more than a month had passed since Britt had issued his opinion.
The lawsuit states that Whitted responded to Brown on Dec. 22, on behalf of Rohde and the police department, and stated that all the information sent to her was all the department had about the Aug. 23 incident.
“I find that difficult to believe knowing they need to keep information by state law, and it’s the procedure to do so, and if there is no (narrative) report that would be highly unusual,” Brown said.
What Brown is seeking
The former mayor alleges in the lawsuit that additional information exists despite the police department’s claim that it does not.
The former mayor is seeking:
- A $100 fine against the Columbus Police Department
- A declaration that Rohde and the police department violated the state’s public records act
- An injunction that orders Rohde and the police department to provide her with a description of the factual circumstances and any injuries, property or weapons involved in the Aug. 23 incident
- Payment by the defendants for her attorney’s fees and the costs of bringing the lawsuit
Rohde declined to comment Wednesday and referred questions to the city attorney. Whitted said it’s his policy not to comment on pending litigation.
Brown, through her attorney — the Indianapolis law firm of Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe — also has requested the lawsuit be moved out of Bartholomew County.
The case currently is in Superior Court 2, before Judge Coriden. However, Brown’s request states that she has had conflicts with the county’s Circuit, Superior 1 and Superior 2 judges, and that the judges have ties to her or the defendants that would be problematic.
Brown said in the change-of-venue request that she would be unlikely to receive a fair trial because of “local prejudice or bias” in the county.
Coriden has not ruled on the change of venue request, according to court records.
Brown also filed a public-records request with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department on Feb. 19, asking for a copy of the internal accident report involving county-owned equipment completed by Gary Myers in reference to the Aug. 23 accident involving his county-owned Dodge 1500.
Jeff Beck, attorney for the sheriff’s department, responded on Feb. 21 and said the department never was in possession of any receipts, invoices or checks related to the repair of Gary Myers’ vehicle.