Suspect complains to judge about public defender

A Columbus man accused of attempting to kill a police officer was critical of his court-appointed attorney during a change-of-plea hearing Thursday, saying he had not visited him at the Bartholomew County Jail.

Jacob D. Rice, 39, of 709 Reed St., criticized his public defender, Chris Monroe, during a hearing before Bartholomew Circuit Court Judge Kelly Benjamin. In the most serious of three open cases filed against Rice, the defendant is accused of firing a handgun at Columbus Police Sgt. Lukas Nibarger on June 27, 2021. Nibarger, who was not hurt, returned fire and wounded Rice. according to Indiana State Police investigators.

The exchange of fire occurred a few hours before dawn outside a home in the Forest Park residential neighborhood, ISP investigators say. After Nibarger was dispatched to investigate suspicious activity, he approached the house quietly on foot and saw a man later identified as Rice looking through the window of a house.

The officer shined a flashlight on Rice, and identified himself as a police officer, the ISP probable cause affidavit states. Nibarger noticed his suspect had a dark object in his hand just before Rice fled to the backyard, the affidavit states.

Investigators say the dark object may have been a 9mm Smith & Wesson M&P Shield handgun recovered at the scene, along with one spent casing that matched the suspect’s pistol, the police report states.

After Nibarger followed the suspect to the backyard, a single shot allegedly fired by Rice was heard while the officer was repeatedly ordering the partially obscured Rice to show his hands. The single shot was followed by Nibarger returning fire with multiple shots, wounding Rice with one 0f the bullets, the affidavit states.

Charges filed against Rice include attempted murder as a Level 1 felony, unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon as a Level 4 felony, criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon as a Level 6 felony and two counts of theft – both as Level 6 felonies.

During Thursday’s court hearing, Monroe had just informed Benjamin his client wanted to go to trial on all charges when Rice began criticizing Monroe for not representing him to his satisfaction.

The defendant said Monroe had not visited him at the Bartholomew County Jail, had only talked to him on the phone once or twice and did not seem interested in preparing a good defense for him.

Rice said he wondered if his public defender hated him because he had been a defendant in Bartholomew Superior Court 1 twice during the 24 years Monroe served as that court’s judge.

Of the 18 criminal cases filed against Rice since 2000, only two were handled in Superior Court 1 from 1988-2012 while Monroe was judge. In both cases, Monroe accepted a plea bargain that reduced what could have been substantial sentences to only six years.

One was a 2008 case where Rice was charged with escape, violating his probation, one count of battery resulting in bodily injury, one count of battery against a school employee and resisting law enforcement. The other case involved the manufacturing and dealing of illegal narcotics in 2007.

The third case against Rice is illegal possession of a syringe as a Level 6 felony.

Benjamin spoke directly to Rice about his comments, saying Monroe is one of the longest-serving judges in Bartholomew County history who has adjudicated thousands of cases over a 24-year period. No one should expect him to remember all defendants who appeared in his courtroom nearly a decade after leaving the bench, she said.

“I’m not hearing you say you want a new attorney,” Benjamin said to Rice. “Is that what you want?’

“Is that even possible?” Rice asked.

A change in public defenders is only allowed under rare circumstances, the judge said.

In response to Rice’s allegations, Monroe told Benjamin he has seldom visited jail inmates since the outbreak of COVID-19. Monroe said he did spend considerable time preparing for Rice’s defense.

At the end of Thursday’s hearing, Benjamin agreed to postpone further court dates regarding Rice until after a motion to suppress evidence is determined on Aug. 4 at 11 a.m.

The only information about the questionable evidence is that it deals with a Level 2 felony. That description only matches a March, 2021 incident that resulted in Rice being charged with dealing in a narcotic. That same case includes two other less serious drug offenses.

The hearing on the motion to exclude evidence is scheduled for Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. A change of plea or pre-trial conference is set for Sept. 19 at 9:15 a.m., while a tentative trial date has been booked for Oct. 22, starting at 8:30 a.m.