Former officer pleads guilty: Man receives probation for false informing

A former reserve Nashville police officer has received probation in a case about a police pursuit of a motorcyclist that ended in the death of an 18-year-old Hope man.

Leonard Burch, 25, Indianapolis, pleaded guilty in Bartholomew Superior Court 2 on Thursday to a Class B misdemeanor, false informing, as part of a plea bargain agreement. A Class C misdemeanor charge, the least serious in Indiana, of reckless driving was dismissed as part of the agreement.

The guilty plea came two days after the anniversary of Xavier Scrogham’s death last year. Scrogham was the motorcyclist who died after Burch began a police pursuit at 11:36 p.m. Aug. 29, 2016 on U.S. 31 near Lowell Road on the north side of Columbus.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen “Kitty” Coriden sentenced Burch according to terms of the plea bargain, a suspended sentence of 180 days in jail, and placed him on probation for 180 days.

Burch was ordered to pay $185 in court costs and $200 in probation costs, court officials said. His probation will be served in Marion County.

The former reserve officer declined to make a comment after the hearing.

Burch was accused of pursuing Scrogham recklessly at a high rate of speed through Columbus and rural Bartholomew County before losing track of the motorcyclist and ending the pursuit. The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department released a video of the pursuit from the Nashville car’s camera showing the two passing through Columbus, running several red lights.

A sheriff’s deputy found Scrogham, who had been thrown from his motorcycle, in a field off Sunland Road east of Columbus at 11:43 p.m. Aug. 29, 2016. He had missed a 90-degree turn and struck a telephone pole guy wire, deputies said. He died at the scene from head and neck trauma, according to the coroner’s office.

During the hearing, Burch admitted under questioning by Bartholomew County Prosecutor Bill Nash that he initiated the pursuit of Scrogham’s motorcycle near U.S. 31 and Lowell Road and called 911 on a cellphone, reporting to Bartholomew County dispatchers that the motorcycle had passed Burch going 120 mph.

Burch admitted in court that he knew that to be a false statement and understood the statement was a false report about the commission of a crime.

Investigators concluded that Scrogham was going no faster than 70 mph in the 55 mph speed zone when the motorcycle first caught Burch’s attention.

“Leonard Burch is not legally responsible for the death of Xavier Scrogham,” Nash said after the hearing. “There was some dispute in the evidence as to whether or not Leonard Burch was acting in an official capacity (as a police officer) when he initiated the pursuit of the motorcycle and made the false report to 911.”

The false-report charge has been proven by Burch admitting to it, he said.

Investigators said Burch’s initial statement to police was that Burch heard the motorcycle revving up its engine ahead of him, and Burch caught up to the motorcycle at a red light at Lowell Road, Nash said.

Burch told investigators he was acting in an official capacity with police powers in the Nashville-marked vehicle even though he was off-duty, Nash said. Nashville police told investigators that their employee manual states its police reserves have no police powers when not on duty. However, the Nashville Police Department could not provide a document showing Burch’s signature indicating he had read the manual and understood what was in it, Nash said.

This left the prosecutor’s office with a decision on whether to file an official misconduct charge against Burch, which could only be proved beyond a reasonable doubt if Burch himself believed he had police powers that night, Nash said.

With Burch pleading guilty to one of the two misdemeanors, the prosecutor’s office achieved what it wanted to do, Nash said.

“We hope under the circumstances, he (Burch) is never given a badge or gun by any law enforcement agency in the future,” Nash said. “Nashville is not the only department where Burch has served as a reserve officer. Having a false-informing conviction is more of a deterrent to law enforcement for employment rather than reckless driving.”

If Burch had been convicted of the two misdemeanors, the maximum sentence he could have received was 240 days in jail and a $1,500 fine.

“My son paid with his life for his mistake of running from the police,” Carleen Scrogham, Xavier’s mother, said after the court hearing, where she sat in the front row of the visitor’s gallery wearing a button with a picture of her son. Xavier’s sister, Hannah, was seated next to her, along with several family friends.

Indicating the probation and court costs Burch is required to pay and the six-month sentence was not enough, Scrogham said: “They should have just let him walk. It makes me feel that my son’s life was nothing.”

About 20 people attended a candlelight vigil at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at the site of the motorcycle crash to remember Xavier Scrogham, his mother said.

A fog covered the area and candles illuminated a flower arrangement placed where he died, his mother said.

“We signed balloons and released them, little messages to heaven,” Carleen Scrogham said.

Although Thursday’s hearing concludes the criminal case in Bartholomew County, Carleen Scrogham said the sentencing is not the end of the investigation into her son’s death.

“It’s just starting,” she said.

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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.