Warsaw Common Council members are discussing amongst themselves whether to hire an attorney from outside the community to further investigate the Jan. 25 incident involving city Police Chief Scott Whitaker.
Whitaker claimed that night, while off duty, he had to take evasive action to avoid a collision with a motorist driving erratically. He followed the motorist home, and by the time Whitaker arrived the female motorist had arrived home, and her husband had come outside to put the car in the garage.
The motorist admitted she had poor eyesight and doesn’t normally drive after dark.
Whitaker is alleged to have confronted the man who came out of the house. In his report of the incident, Whitaker said he “assisted” the man to his knees, while in a video the man said he was shoved. The video is posted on the city’s website (www.warsaw.in.gov).
An Indiana State Police investigation was launched, and found no wrongdoing in the incident. Whitaker apologized to the couple for his actions in a press conference Feb. 22, but added that he wouldn’t have done anything differently.
Two officers, Jason Dobbins and Ross Minear, were suspended for 10 days without pay on March 8 for allegedly sharing body cam video from on-duty officers at the scene with common council members. Neither officer was at the scene that night.
Councilmen Mike Klondaris and Jack Wilhite interviewed the couple in the video, and Klondaris said he’s concerned it may be hard for Dobbins and Minear to return to work.
“These aren’t easy things to say and I don’t relish having to say them, but I heard the chief say in a press conference ‘we make our accusations, then we do our investigation.’ Maybe that’s the approach we need to take from our point of view,” said Klondaris.
“After (Dobbins and Minear) are done with their 10-day suspension without pay, they’re going to be going back to a work environment that is toxic and maybe tough, presided over by people who made these charges against them. And if there is a hostile work environment, then I want to know about it.
“And I want to know about it right now, because you can’t do that in any workplace. You can’t work at Zimmer Biomet, at Da-Lite, Owen’s or anyplace with a hostile workplace environment. There are laws against that.
“It’s my understanding these police officers have been told they can’t talk to council (members) and I don’t think that’s in the city employee handbook, that you can’t talk to a councilman. I take offense to that.
“There is a chain of command, and there’s a protocol to follow, and I understand that, and that’s what (officers) need to do. But if the chain of command is part of the problem, what other course of action do they have available to them?
“I submit to you that if you can’t go to your immediate supervisor, or their boss, or on up the line, who’s next? Wouldn’t it be a city councilman? That makes sense to me.”
State Rep. Dave Wolkins (R-Warsaw) said his office had received a lot of calls and e-mails over the situation, and while there was nothing he can do legally, he did get advice from Attorney General Curtis Hill that if the Warsaw Common Council wanted further investigation, it would have to hire an outside attorney to do so.
Wilhite feels the council needs someone other than city attorney Scott Reust to look into the matter because of Reust’s position.
“If it comes down to ‘Who does the city attorney really represent?’ then he’ll represent the city, but if there’s a dispute between the city council and the mayor, he’ll side with the mayor, because he serves at the mayor’s pleasure.
“What it comes down to is we want to make sure that we’re getting information that is unbiased, and in the current situation, I don’t think we could be getting that, because (Reust) would be representing the mayor, mostly.”
Wilhite said the decision hasn’t been made yet on whether to move on the idea or not, but it’s trending in that direction and said there was better than a 50/50 chance that council members will proceed.
Klondaris said he felt that if the council would proceed with hiring an investigator, Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer would welcome the investigation.
“I would hope that the mayor would embrace that, and not see it as a challenge, because it would give him the opportunity to take himself out of the mix. It would take the politics out of it. It would be an independent evaluation, and he wouldn’t have to interject himself; he wouldn’t have to be involved. He could then take the information we could provide for him and give him cover, so to speak.
“I would hope he would see it in that light, and not a challenge to him, because it’s not meant as that. We just want to get to the truth, and find out what is going on in our police department. Because right now, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of trust out there, not just within the council but out there on the street.”
Thallemer said he was aware of the discussions among council members, and wonders if such an investigation is really necessary.
“I’m not sure where (the council members) stand on this. I’ve not heard any mention of the Indiana State Police investigation, and I think it should be,” Thallemer said.
“As far as I’m concerned, from the information we’ve got, we’ve certainly don’t have anything to hide. We’ve put everything out front.
“The council certainly has the right to do what they want. I’m going to reiterate; the moment we got notice of this we contacted the Indiana State Police. A 25-year investigator who’s done hundreds of these cases, who understood the importance of looking at it, making sure all the information was looked at, finished his investigation, came back and said he didn’t feel there was anything warranted, that needed to continue to be investigated.
“We put all the information we had out, we had a press conference, we made the chief available, the chief apologized for the misunderstanding, and there was every opportunity to ask him any question they wanted to. I’ve done everything I can, and I don’t know that there’s any new information that another investigator is going to get.”
The Times-Union attempted to contact the remaining five common council members for comment on this story, but was unable to do so.