Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jeffersonville Mayor Apologizes To Family Of City Attorney Found In Trash Can

You could see this one coming from a mile away. The City of Jeffersonville's top attorney makes a complete fool of himself, awakened by city police in his neighbor's garbage can after a night on the town with some friends to celebrate one of them passing a real estate license exam. Although city police didn't ticket city attorney Larry Wilder for public intoxication or disorderly conduct, a police officer snapped some priceless photos of Wilder which found their way to the news media and on to the Internet. Today, Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan called a press conference to apologize to Wilder's family, as demanded by Wilder, because at least one, if not more, of the city's police officers "ignored" their oath and "allowed personal or political motivations to interfere with their work." The Jeffersonville News and Tribune's Matt Thacker reports on Galligan's statement to the press:

Jeffersonville Mayor Tom Galligan on Sunday apologized to Larry Wilder’s family for pictures taken of the city council’s attorney passed out in a trash can Wednesday morning.

Galligan said it is still under investigation who took and distributed the photographs, but Jeffersonville Police Chief Tim Deeringer confirmed they were taken by a camera issued by the police department.

“When someone becomes a police officer in the city of Jeffersonville, they take an oath to protect and serve the people of this city,” Galligan said at a press conference on Sunday afternoon. “Earlier this week, one or two officers ignored that oath and allowed their personal or political motivations to interfere with their work.”

Wilder said in an interview with The Evening News on Friday that he wanted the police officer who took the photos to apologize to his children. The apology, instead, came from the mayor.

“I apologize personally — and as mayor — to the children and family of Larry Wilder for the pain that you have endured at the hands of one or two errant officers,” Galligan said.

Galligan said he called the press conference because several citizens approached him with concerns that a similar situation could happen to them if police officers wanted to embarrass them.

He said police officers should treat everyone with “dignity and professionalism” and called the unknown officer who took the photos a “renegade.”

Galligan would not comment whether the police officer(s) involved would be disciplined. When asked if this was a matter for the police merit board to handle, he said, “it’s going to be a matter for the mayor.” However, he did have ominous words for the officer(s) involved.

“We are going to take appropriate action to ensure that no police officer will be comfortable abusing their authority again,” Galligan said.

Galligan said it may be three or four officers involved but that it is more likely one or two. Four officers responded to the call, according to police records.
Galligan hints that the responsible police officers will be disciplined for their actions. Which action is worse: failing to charge Wilder with public intoxication; or taking pictures of Wilder and disseminating them to the news media? Wilder would have automatically faced a disciplinary action before the Indiana Attorney Disciplinary Commission if police had charged him with public intoxication and he had been convicted. The Commission takes abuse of alcohol by members of the bar very seriously. All of us know someone who has tied one on, particularly college students, who upon acting up in public, wound up being arrested, charged with public intoxication and taken to the tank to dry out. In Wilder's case, one of the responding police officers walked him home. Apparently, police didn't check Wilder's blood alcohol level.

For his part, Wilder apologized on Friday. He told Thacker, “I take responsibility for my conduct.” “I’ve made a mistake. I’ve embarrassed myself. I’ve embarrassed my family, and I’ve embarrassed my clients.” Wilder insists he is not a drinker and only recalls having three or four drinks at a Louisville restaurant. “I can’t tell you what happened. I wish I could,” Wilder said, explaining that he cannot remember anything after 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. According to earlier reports, a limousine dropped off Wilder at his home around 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. His neighbor discovered him around 7:00 a.m. The city council must still decide what to do about Wilder's continued employment as the council's contracted attorney.

Personally, I think the police could have justified their actions if they had taken the photos of Wilder in anticipation of filing charges against him for public intoxication. If that had happened, I would not see why the photos would not have become public documents accessible by the media. For whatever reason, no charges were made against Wilder and it leaves the appearance, as Mayor Galligan suggests, police were simply trying to embarrass him for personal and political motivations. I think Mayor Galligan and his police department also owe it to the public to explain why no criminal charges were filed against Wilder. If there is important information missing here that would explain the inaction, it is in the public's and Wilder's interest to clear the air.


Unknown said...

Given the PI charges I used to see in Bloomington (mostly students walking home from bars instead of driving), I think that sending the confidential record to the media is the worse offense.

But leaving that aside, this is not a good PI case. The neighbor's yard is not a public place, so even if he was drunk when they woke him up, he hasn't committed PI. (And I kind of get the impression that he wasn't drunk when they woke him up).

Of course you could work backwards and try to find witnesses who will testify that he was drunk at the bar, in the parking lot of the bar, or in the back of the limo (b/c it's on a public street), but that's both a lot of work to go through for a very minor crime, and won't be likely to yield results that would lead to a conviction. At least based on the newspaper reports I've read.

Gary R. Welsh said...

I'm aware of cases where people have fallen asleep outdoors or laid down and been arrested for public intoxication. I totally disagree with you that he couldn't be charged because he was on private property. The limo let him out on a public street and he apparently wandered up into the neighbor's drive. It appeared the trash can was at the end of the drive by observing the photos posted on WAVE 3's website.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Here's the statutory definition:

It is a Class B misdemeanor for a person to be in a public place or a place of public resort in a state of intoxication caused by the person's use of alcohol or a controlled substance.

Without a blood alcohol test, a case against him would be more difficult, although the circumstantial evidence and his own admissions to the media don't help him.

Anonymous said...

The pictures are not confidential. This makes your city look stupid because the mayor apologized to the attorney and threatened to punish the police when it should have been the other way around.