Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Scrap Dealer Getting A Fair Trial?

A story in today's Star by Jon Murray and Vic Ryckaert about the trial of a scrap metal dealer accused of buying stolen goods raises serious concerns about whether the accused is receiving a fair trial. IMPD charged Troy Flanagan with receiving stolen property after he purchased copper from an undercover IMPD officer in 2007. Jason Prendergast, the IMPD officer in charge of scrap metal investigations at the time, issued a search warrant used to raid Flanagan's business. Prendergast is among more than 50 police officers who were working part-time for OmniSource, a rival scrap metal business, which law enforcement raided as part of an investigation into allegations that OmniSource may have used IMPD officers it employed to target rival scrap yards. Those same law enforcement officers allegedly looked the other way at stolen goods sold to OmniSource. As a result of the raid, IMPD reassigned Prendergast and demoted another officer, David Allender. All IMPD officers have been barred from working for OmniSource. Flanagan's attorney believes Prendergast included misleading and unreliable information in the search warrant he prepared for Flanagan's business. Allender is also identified in a police report as participating in the investigation of Flanagan. As hard as it might be to believe, a Marion Superior Court judge denied a request by Flanagan's attorney to suppress evidence obtained as a result of that search warrant.

In light of the ongoing grand jury investigation and allegations of wrongdoing by police officers, it seems incomprehensible that the Marion Co. Prosecutor's office is pressing ahead with Flanagan's case, which there is strong reason to believe is tainted. The Prosecutor's Office, according to the Star story, claims Prendergast's work prior to the arrest involved a different scrap metal employer; however, it is the same scrap metal business acquired by OmniSource. Flanagan's attorney has been denied the opportunity to question Chief Michael Spears to learn which officers were working for OmniSource. "But the court has quashed those subpoenas," the Star reports. "And last week, Judge Lisa Borges denied Hawkins' attempt to delay today's trial so he could try again to question Spears and the detectives." "Borges said it was unlikely Spears would have direct personal knowledge of the Flanagan investigation." "I'm trying to get more evidence in this case," Hawkins told the judge. "I think my client's constitutional rights were violated." I agree with Mr. Hawkins.

UPDATE: Is somebody rethinking this case? The Star reports that the case scheduled to go on trial this morning has now been delayed for two months. Last week, the judge denied a request by the defendant to delay the trial.

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