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Warsaw Police Officers disciplined for mishandling video of Chief Whitaker

(Gary Nieter / Times-Union)

Two Warsaw police officers were suspended for 10 days without pay, effective immediately, after a 2-0 decision by the city’s Board of Public Works and Safety in a special meeting Friday morning.

The incident reportedly involved the copying of body camera video from a Warsaw Police Department server in violation of the department’s policies. The video – of a Jan. 25 incident involving WPD Chief Scott Whitaker – was then shown to a city councilman.

Mayor Joe Thallemer recused himself from voting, with board members Jeff Grose and George Clemens voting to suspend officers Jason Dobbins and Ross Minear for neglect of duty, violation of rules, conduct unbecoming an officer and breach of discipline.

The officers, who were not present at the Friday meeting, have five days to appeal for a hearing before the Board of Works. Minear’s hire date is July 1, 2012, and Dobbins’ is Oct. 14, 2012.

The suspensions come on the heels of the Jan. 25 incident in which Whitaker – off-duty and out of uniform – followed a driver, who he believed was impaired, to a residence. When the driver went inside the home, her husband came out to put the car in the garage. Whitaker said he “helped the man to the ground.” In audio posted on the city of Warsaw website the man, a 74-year-old retired attorney, says Whitaker “shoved” him.

A review by the Indiana State Police concluded there was no need for an investigation into Whitaker’s actions.

During a February press conference, Whitaker apologized to the couple for the way the incident transpired and the unwanted attention it brought on them. He also said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

At today’s hearing, city attorney Scott Reust said it was being held pursuant to Indiana Code 36-8-3-4 for a “presentation of a request for disciplinary actions against certain members” of the Warsaw Police Department.

On Feb. 13, Reust said Whitaker recused himself from any involvement in the internal investigation. A copy of the recusal letter was made available, and it states that Whitaker directed “Deputy Chief Bryan J. Sherwin to be responsible for conducting and overseeing the investigation and for administering any discipline or other remedial action that may arise as a result of the investigation.” Sherwin was instructed that no one was to contact Whitaker about the investigation unless Whitaker was being interviewed as a witness. The recusal will remain in effect until the investigation, any resulting discipline, hearings or appeals are concluded.

Reust said pursuant to the state statute,  if a “member” is suspended in excess of five days without pay, demoted or dismissed, the Board shall offer that member an opportunity for a hearing. If a member desires a hearing, the member must request a hearing not more than five days after receiving notice of the suspension, demotion or dismissal. The statute also details the process if a hearing is requested by a member.

Before Sherwin gave the presentation of the WPD disciplinary recommendation to the Board of Works, Thallemer recused himself.

“Information I received and reviewed as part of this matter creates a conflict for my participation in today’s discussion and vote of the notice of discipline action before the Board of Works,” Thallemer said. After today’s decision, if either officer requests a hearing before the Board of Works on the matter, Thallemer said he’d like to be called as a witness. “This is a conflict. I’ve been advised by legal counsel to recuse myself from today’s actions. I will not be able to comment on this matter until it is resolved.”

Sherwin then gave his presentation, noting the internal investigation on the two officers has concluded at the WPD. He began by reading the notice of discipline on Minear.

At about 6:08 a.m. Feb. 1, while on duty, Minear retrieved his personal cellphone out of his pocket and used it as a video camera to make a partial copy of body camera footage on a WPD server. At 3:09 a.m. Feb. 5, Minear, while on duty, took a blank DVD, belonging to WPD, from the report writing room and inserted it into a WPD computer to burn a copy of the same body camera footage in its entirety. The DVD was then placed into his pocket. The footage is not any part of an investigation in which Minear was involved, Sherwin noted.

On Feb. 14 at 7:38 a.m., Minear voluntarily submitted to an interview at WPD. After 30 minutes of “not being truthful in the interview,” Minear admitted to using his personal cellphone while on duty to record a short snippet of the body camera video off a WPD computer. Minear said the reason was “to have in his back pocket if he got in trouble again,” Sherwin said. Minear was asked if he had sent the cellphone footage to anyone or had shown it to anyone and he said “no.”

Minear also admitted he sent it to Dobbins because Dobbins wanted to see it. Minear said the next day, Feb. 2, Dobbins visited City Councilman Mike Klondaris and gave Klondaris the video that Minear had sent him. When asked why, Minear said “… Dobbins wanted a change in the administration” and was politically motivated. When Minear was questioned about the DVD copy, Minear eventually admitted to making the copy and he had it in his patrol vehicle and no one saw it.

Then on March 1, Sherwin and Lt. Paul Heaton interviewed Minear again. During the interview, Minear said he and Dobbins watched the entire DVD he copied while on duty at Dobbins’ polygraph office. Minear said he saw Dobbins use his personal cellphone to record the entire footage. Sherwin said “this directly conflicts with his prior statement Minear provided in his Feb. 4 interview when asked if he had shown anyone and he said ‘no.’”

Sherwin then listed the seven violations of the city’s employee handbook Minear committed and the five violations of the standard operating procedures of the WPD.

In his conclusion on Minear, Sherwin said Minear was not present or involved in the Jan. 25 investigation; that he was not completely truthful in a Feb. 14 interview; and that Minear admitted that on Feb. 1 he accessed the WPD video server while on duty and made a secret recording. He “admitted to taking a copy of the video for personal gain and protection, and to ‘blackmail’ the chief in case he ‘got in trouble’ again.” Minear also provided footage to Dobbins, and “additional facts were discovered in a followup interview with Minear on March 1 verifying he was not completely truthful in the prior interview.”

With no questions from Clemens or Grose, Sherwin then read the notice of discipline on Dobbins.

On Feb. 1, Dobbins received a copy of a video that Minear produced of the Jan. 25 incident. Dobbins was not present or involved in the incident. On Feb. 14, Dobbins voluntarily submitted to an interview with Sherwin and Heaton. Dobbins immediately said, “I already know what this is about” and “I didn’t hear anything about this until five days ago or something like that.” Dobbins said he heard about the incident a couple of times from Minear.

Dobbins admitted to Sherwin and Heaton that Minear sent him the cellphone video of the footage. Dobbins said he reviewed the video and didn’t see anything on it, adding, “It was nothing.” He couldn’t remember the date he received the video from Minear.

Dobbins repeatedly told Heaton and Sherwin that he did not tell Klondaris about the video and that he didn’t know how Klondaris knew about the video. He also repeatedly stated he received a call from Klondaris asking for the video. Dobbins said he sent a video to Klondaris at Klondaris’ request, but couldn’t remember when he sent it. Dobbins also said he deleted the video from his phone, but refused to let Sherwin and Heaton review his phone to see if the video was still on it.

On Feb. 27, Klondaris voluntarily submitted to an interview with Sherwin. Klondaris said that he was contacted by Dobbins on Feb. 2, telling him of an off-duty incident involving Whitaker and asked him if he had seen the video. Dobbins offered to send him the video and Klondaris said “yes.” Dobbins told Klondaris there were other videos out there and they were going to be sent to news organizations. Klondaris showed Sherwin the video sent to him by Dobbins.

On March 1, Dobbins again was interviewed and he “finally admitted, after repeatedly denying in the prior interview, that he was the first person to bring the matter to Klondaris and provided the Minear video,” Sherwin said. Dobbins also said he watched the entire video from the DVD that Minear copied, after having denied it in a prior interview.

Sherwin listed the eight violations of the city’s employee handbook that Dobbins committed and the six violations of the WPD’s standard operating procedures.

In his summary on Dobbins, Sherwin said, “Dobbins has repeatedly lied in interviews or his involvement, and facts which include recording the DVD relating to the investigation.”

After no questions from Grose and Clemens, Sherwin made his recommendations that Minear and Dobbins be suspended for 10 days without pay beginning today.

At the start of today’s hearing, Thallemer made a statement on the meeting. He reminded everyone that the meeting was advertised properly and “it’s very unfortunate that a social media site locally posted a blatantly false statement that the meeting was changed to an executive session. The post was designed to confuse and limit access to the meeting. Please rely on our required advertisement for accurate meeting information in the future.”