A judge's ruling Tuesday that a woman's drunken driving arrest was illegal because the arresting officer was not sworn in after this year's police merger could affect a wave of other criminal cases.
For now, Judge Reuben Hill's ruling likely means misdemeanor and felony charges against Cheryl Oddi-Smith, 44, will be thrown out of Marion Superior Court.
But prosecutors worry other defense attorneys might use the case to challenge arrests by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers in much more serious crimes. A spokesman for the Marion County prosecutor said the Indiana attorney general already plans to appeal.
Hill's ruling rests on whether officers retained their sworn status when the merger between the Marion County Sheriff's Department and the Indianapolis Police Department took effect Jan. 1. Without it, they would lose the authority to make many arrests. Police officials believed the status did carry over and made no effort to ensure every member of the force took a new oath after the merger.
But the judge agreed with defense attorneys Annie Fierek and James Voyles, who argued that William J. Bueckers, the arresting officer, lacked such status and couldn't arrest Oddi-Smith.
Think about it. Potentially, thousands of criminal cases this year hang in the balance because nobody thought to swear in our police officers. "Top brass and some officers did take the oath Jan. 2 at a ceremony marking the transition," Murray writes. "Attendance was voluntary," he adds. "'Why didn't they do it? It would have taken 10 minutes,' said Henry Karlson, a professor at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis who has criticized aspects of the consolidation." "He noted some officers had questioned the decision not to require them to be resworn."
You may recall that very few police officers attended last January's ceremony marking the transition into a new law enforcement agency, IMPD. That was because many officers were still miffed about the merger itself, primarily because it put Sheriff Frank Anderson (D) in charge of the department, relieving the Mayor of this major responsibility. If the Mayor is lucky, an appeals court will reverse Judge Hill's decision and save the Mayor from another major debacle. That may not be enough for voters, though, who have already begun to solidify their view that Mayor Peterson's administration of the city has been something short of competent the past 8 years in light of skyrocketing taxes and crime.
Meanwhile, Mayor Peterson unsuccessfully attempted yesterday to impress us by announcing the first cuts in the city budget will take place in his own office. "Justin Ohlemiller, deputy chief of staff, said at the hearing that the mayor would not fill an executive assistant position or an assistant deputy mayor position in next year's budget," reports the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy. "The budget of the mayor's office will decrease by $106,000 this year and slightly more in 2008." Do you see the absurdity here? You tell us you're doing away with an assistant to an assistant deputy mayor and an assistant deputy mayor to a deputy mayor? "Tough times call for sacrifice and leadership by example," Ohlemiller said. Give me a break, Ohlemiller. You don't expect us to believe that $106,000 represents 10% of the mayor's personal budget do you? What about all those other high-paid people working for the mayor who are being paid out of other budgets? Let's say, like the Bond Bank? And by the way Ohlemiller, do we really need a "deputy chief of staff"?