Sunday, October 03, 2010

Handling Of Hit-And-Run Death Investigation Of Greenfield Police Officer Troubling

Police officer Will Phillips of the Greenfield Police Department died tragically this past Wednesday night after his bicycle was struck by an automobile. The driver of the automobile fled the scene without stopping. Phillips, along with two other police officers, were bicycling along U.S. 40 near Knightstown High School on a training mission when his bicycle was struck by the hit-and-run driver. The investigation of his death by the Henry County Sheriff and Prosecutor have caused a great deal of concern.

It turns out the driver of the hit-and-run vehicle is a prominent woman in the local community. Although she met with investigators on Friday at a meeting scheduled by her attorney to give her statement, Henry Co. Sheriff Butch Baker and County Prosecutor Kit Crane ordered her not to be arrested. Fox59 News' Kimberly King explains:

Fox 59 has learned the female suspect in the hit and run that killed Greenfield Police Officer Will Phillips turned herself in on Friday.


Sources tell Fox 59 the woman is reportedly a prominent person in the community and gave police a statement Friday.

The source says the suspected confessed that she struck the officer and left the scene late Wednesday night on U.S. 40.

A Sheriff's detective and State Police detective met the woman Friday at an undisclosed location to take her statement.

Fox 59 also learned that investigators were ordered to not arrest the woman by Henry County Sheriff Butch Baker and Henry County Prosecutor Kit Crane, who has been handling the negotiations.

A 2002 Toyota Corolla has also been recovered in connection to the deadly hit and run. The source says that there was evidence on the car coinciding with evidence from the accident scene.

Early in the investigation Fox 59 reported that a headlamp belonging to a 2002 Toyota had been found at the crash site.

Both Henry County Sheriff Butch Baker and Henry County Prosecutor Kit Crane told reporters Friday that they expected the woman to turn herself in next week.

Neither the Sheriff or Prosecutor disclosed that the woman has already given a statement to investigators or that a car involved in the crash has been located.

Those close to the investigation are concerned the woman is getting special treatment because of her apparent connections and negotiations, according to our source.

Investigators have been told that the woman was not being arrested as a condition of negotiations to get her statement by Prosecutor Crane. Also an interesting note, Sheriff Butch Baker used to work for Henry County Prosecutor Crane as his Chief Investigator.
King notes this is not the first time Crane has taken active steps in handling investigations normally left to police when a prominent local resident is suspected of committing a crime. She cites the questionable way he handled fatal DUI crash involving State Senator Tom Saunders' son:

Crane has handled other criminal negotiations in the past that are usually left to the police.

One case involved former State Senator Tom Saunders whose son hit a driver and killed him and then fled the scene.

Crane negotiated this case through his Deputy Prosecutor.

That case took about two weeks to resolve and Saunder's son to turn himself in.

In that case, Butch Baker, was working for the Prosecutor at the time and is also Saunder's cousin.
The sheriff and prosecutor learned the morning after the fatal collision the female driver of the car had retained an attorney, who then contacted Henry Co. officials to discuss the conditions for his client to make a statement to them. At that time, they claimed only the attorney knew the identity of the client. As King notes in her report, both the prosecutor's and sheriff's offices neglected to mention to the media on Friday when they announced the woman would likely turn herself in next week that they had already met with her and taken a statement from her. Clearly this woman is being afforded special treatment not typically afforded to someone who has committed a crime as serious as the one she committed. Coming on the heels of IMPD's mishandling of the fatal DUI crash involving Officer David Bisard, the public is naturally suspicious of any special treatment accorded to public officials and prominent members of the community by government investigators.

8 comments:

Its Me said...

Gary,

Did you ever stop to think that there may have been an agreement not to arrest in order to take a statement in the first place? ID is almost always the issue in such a crime. Many times no arrest is even made. If the suspect contacted the prosecutor through an attorney to give a statement with a condition that he or she not be outright arrested, should the prosecutor have just ignore the overture?

Why is there an immediate assumption of untoward conduct on the part of the prosecutor who likely had no options and a police department with no leads at the time?

The fact is that you have absolutely no idea what is actually going on. Yet like so often in the past, you just guess because it sounds controversial.

Advance Indiana said...

Well, Its me, glad to see you feel so strongly about your position you won't identify yourself. Pretty typical of what I've come to expect from the people who anonymously comment on blogs. People who flee the scene often do so because they're under the influence. There was evidence left behind at the scene which helped identify the vehicle. IMPD police had no problem figuring out who struck and critically injured a cyclist just a couple of weeks ago. Greenfield is a small community where it is hard to keep a secret. It wouldn't have surprised me of the case wasn't solved without the woman's cooperation. It's a small town, the car had damage. People put two and two together. IMPD figured out who hit a cyclist a couple of weeks ago and fled the scene. As WTHR reported on that case:

A woman is in critical condition after being struck by a vehicle while riding her bike on the south side.

Police say 20-year-old Amanda Tames was struck in the 5600 block of Gray Road around 8:15 p.m. Sunday. Tames was thrown approximately 200 feet following impact and was transported to Methodist Hospital.

Monday afternoon, detectives arrested 52-year-old Robert Gaines and preliminarily charged him with a felony charge of failure to stop after an accident resulting in serious bodily injury.

The break in the case came after investigators started piecing together pieces of Gaines' SUV from the crime scene.

"That, in addition with the pieces that were gathered last night at the scene, right after the accident happened, formed pieces of a puzzle that they were able to determine, through a dealership here in town, that it was from a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado or GMC Sierra pick-up truck," said IMPD Sgt. Paul Thompson. "That dealership took the time to contact several body shops and one of the body shops confirmed that they just had a vehicle of that description towed into their facility."

Court records show Gaines was on probation after entering a not guilty plea to drunk driving and guilty to public intoxication in July.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact IMPD."

Its Me said...

So IMPD figured out one case. Great. But it doesn't follow that this one can or could be solved without the responsible party coming forward. It certainly doesn't follow that the prosecutor is doing something wrong.

And OF COURSE every hit and run suspect was hammered or high at the time. So they make it home, sober up, and call a lawyer. Who promptly tells them not to talk to anyone. And if they weren't identified by the time they made it home, where could there ever be hope of solving the crime?

Unless the person comes forward.

Conditionally.

It amazes me how you and "experts" like Henry Karlson, Joel Schumm and (my favorite criminal law critic) Paul Galanti can be so certain about your conclusions with so little real information.

Many people credit what you write, Gary. That Indylawstudent or whoever it is believes your posts are Gospel.

And Henry, Joel and Paul are actually teaching law students.

Scary.

Judy said...

How can an arrest NOT be made in a felony case where guilt is admitted? This is obviously special treatment and increases the "suspicions" that she was under the influence. I was told, one time, that perception is reality. If the perception is that she was trying to hide something, then to most people the reality IS that she had something to hide whether she actually did or not. If that were a common "Jane", she would have been arrested without any negotiating. Did Officer Phillips get to negotiate his LIFE? This SCREAMS COVER-UP and on the heels of what happened in Indy, it further grows the distrust of investigators and their ability to be fair.

Advance Indiana said...

Again, the police already knew what kind of car hit the police officer. The driver could run but she could not hide forever. No special expertise claimed on my part. Just common sense and good ole fashion police work. As King's report noted:

"A 2002 Toyota Corolla has also been recovered in connection to the deadly hit and run. The source says that there was evidence on the car coinciding with evidence from the accident scene.

Early in the investigation Fox 59 reported that a headlamp belonging to a 2002 Toyota had been found at the crash site."

Bikelawyer said...

What kind of "prominent" person drives a 2002 Corolla? Isn't that the car of the lifetime PhD grad student?

I do agree that there are a few reasons people hit cyclists and run:
1. Drunk
2. Drunk and already have a lousy driving record
3. No insurance
4. Driving on suspended license.
5. Think they hit "a deer" [MD case], a "sign" [TOSRV Case] or some other inanimate object which, apparently, gives a motorist a free pass from stopping...

Why do prosecutors handle these cases sensitively? If they've got them dead to rights, then they don't. If they don't have much, they have to tread carefully. The person doesn't want to be dragged in, but their lawyer knows if they get dragged into a trial it could end badly. The prosecutor doesn't want to lose the case at trial, but doesn't want to let the fish on the line wiggle off before he can reel her in on something...esp on this high profile case.

There are no actual 'facts' yet on the aftermath yet, though, it seems, other than a horrific crash and a very "bad" person who ran off and left 3 people at the scene. If she left that much of her car at the scene, she obviously knew she hit something HARD.

The question of how can an arrest NOT be made is a good one. What is the charge? I'm not an Indiana lawyer, but I remember just a couple yrs ago when there were 3 separate motorcycle crashes within a few minutes, and a few miles of each other. 3 were killed in one. 2 in another. 1 in the third, w/ many injuries. In EACH case police/prosecutors didn't charge any of the young motorists who caused the crashes... in each case they said "We Don't Prosecute Negligence In Indiana..." Many states fail to protect cyclists by having laws that don't punish "minor" right of way violations based on the harm caused and many police/prosecutors are afraid to "over charge" if they think they can't prove "reckless" or worse. Let's hope this case gets favorably resolved.

Steve Magas
The Bike Lawyer

Let's let the facts shake out and see what happens...

Cato said...

Looks like self-preservation. If you kill a cop, they WILL kill you.

It's always funny to see these inferences prosecutors try to draw when someone runs from a cop, as if running from a cop implies some sort of guilt.

In the real world, running from a cop means you don't want to be tortured or killed, and you don't want evidence planted on you.

The cops body-slammed some 84 year old guy in Orlando because he dared to touch a cop. The cop broke his neck so severely that he almost died. What do you think they're going to do to you if you kill one of them?

P.S. A Corolla is a fine car. In Europe, nobody would be ashamed to drive it. America should be embarrassed by its shallow materialism. A car is no more impressive than your socks.

James said...

Sorry, but I'm a little tired of people leaving the scene after hitting someone on a bike.

The penalty for leaving the scene after an hour should be more than a drunk driving charge in order to discourage that calculation.

I appreciate what some of the people making comments are saying: I don't think that ID'ing these cases is as easy as it might seem.

Someone spending just a little bit of time on a car with a scrub brush and not volunteering any info would make it very hard to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

I can see the driver wanting negotiate fair treatment because the person she hit was a policeman. I don't see giving her special treatment because she's prominent.