GREENWOOD, Ind.-- The City of Greenwood is spending $40,000 on a consultant to do a comprehensive study to determine if any police officers profiled citizens.
The decision comes as five officers are off the force after they were accused of exchanging religious and racially derogatory messages on their department laptops.
Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison sat down with WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney this week and explained the consultant, Dolan Consulting Group, will look at last year's traffic stops and arrests.
“It falls on me and my responsibility to not only be transparent with the public, but also dig deeper,” said Ison. “Right now, I have no evidence that these officers were actually profiling anyone. I’ve got a responsibility to dig deeper.”
The results are expected to take nine months, said Ison.
As WRTV Investigates first reported in August, Chief Ison moved to terminate five officers for exchanging instant messages that “contained, profanity, sexually explicit content, disrespectful/explicit comments concerning supervisors, and pejorative racial and religious comments.”
Disciplinary documents obtained by WRTV say the messages used derogatory language to describe African Americans, gay people and Jews.
Four of the police officers resigned and the city fired a fifth officer, Sam Bowen, earlier this month.
- Sam Bowen, hired 10/19/2020; fired 10/12/2023
- Elijah Allen, hired 4/15/2019 and resigned 10/19/2023
- Jacob Hagist, hired 10/19/2020 and resigned 8/17/2023
- Zane Hennig, hired 6/7/2021 and resigned 8/10/2023
- Tyler Kintzele, hired 8/19/2019 and resigned 8/10/2023
Ison said he is satisfied with the outcome.
“I think it sends a very clear message, this isn't the culture of the Greenwood Police Department,” said Ison. “We're not going to tolerate this type of behavior."
- WRTV: Do you do consider this a black eye?
- Ison: There's no way around it. It absolutely is.
- WRTV: This is your department. Do you accept responsibility that this happened under your watch?
- Ison: Oh absolutely. The buck stops with me. I actually feel very fortunate that we caught it as soon as we did. This is not something we routinely check.
- WRTV: How did this even happen in the first place? Was there not enough oversight?
- Ison: We typically don't review the officers’ instant messages.
- WRTV: What was your initial reaction when you read the inappropriate messages?
- Ison: Disgusted. Upset.
The Chief said he first saw the obscene messages in July after the city’s legal team preserved them as part of a federal lawsuit filed by then-officer Sam Bowen.
Bowen’s lawsuit alleges Chief Ison retaliated against him for making Facebook comments that criticized the department and the chief.
The city fired Bowen earlier this month because his messages violated department policies.
At the Police Merit Commission hearing, Bowen said some officers resort to dark humor to deal with the stress of the job.
“It's not anything I am proud of,” said Bowen. “I see that it was wrong. I see that I shouldn't have said those things.”
Bowen said the department needs to provide more training on handling stress.
“I was dealing with stress and looking for a way to relieve it,” said Bowen. “That's the way I was taught to relieve it. I was young, I was malleable. I was taught this is the way we do things."
In an interview with WRTV Investigates, Ison denied that type of language is part of the culture.
Police officers use instant messages to talk to each other about everything from which stolen vehicle they’re looking for to where they’re going to grab dinner.
Chief Ison said one officer can generate thousands of messages a year, making it difficult to monitor.
“I think these were five bad actors,” said Chief Ison. “I did some random sampling of other instant messages from every shift. There was nothing, anything like this."
Ison would not say much as to whether he retaliated against Bowen for his Facebook comments.
“The only thing I will say is it's absolutely false allegations but beyond that it's a pending lawsuit, I can't comment on anything,” said Ison.
Ison is looking at requiring additional cultural diversity classes and training in addition to hiring Dolan Consulting Group.
“The other 70 officers aren’t doing this type of thing,” said Ison. “I want to be very clear I’m not lumping the rest of the department in with that group.”
The Johnson County Prosecutor is also reviewing criminal cases that involved the five officers.
- WRTV: Is it possible that some cases could be thrown out?
- Ison: Absolutely. I’m not an attorney. My understanding is they would actually have to prove that the officers were being prejudicial against the person who was arrested or stopped.
WRTV Investigates reached out to the Johnson County prosecutor Lance Hamner, and he provided the following statment:
As you can imagine, we hope this won’t have a huge impact on very many of our cases. We’re actively working on this.
You might be aware that the U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963)—which is 60 years old this year--requires prosecutors to disclose materially exculpatory evidence—evidence that tends to exonerate—to the defense. This includes impeachment evidence relating to any person expected to be called as a state’s witness under Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 152 (1972), a case that came down 12 years after Brady.
Pursuant to our discovery obligations under Brady & Giglio—in each case where one of the GPD officers was listed as a state’s witness, we are notifying the defendant/defense counsel that there may be potential Brady/Giglio evidence.
We are additionally asking our courts to conduct in camera (in chambers of the judge) review of all potential evidence to determine what should be turned over to a defendant and in what manner the discovery should take place. This is a process that takes time and has resulted in some cases being continued so that we can complete our obligations under Brady/Giglio.
This office will look at each individual case to determine if the potential evidence will have any impact on our ability to move forward with the prosecution. As we are still in the middle of the Brady/Giglio disclosure process, we do not yet know how many cases could be impacted. Since the officers in question are patrol officers, not detectives with large case loads, we hope the impact won’t be huge, as I noted.
The Greenwood Police Department is now down to 71 officers, but the chief plans to hire 9 more, bringing the agency up to 80 officers by February.
Back in August, WRTV Investigates reached out to all five officers who faced termination at the time, but only Bowen agreed to speak with us.
Bowen’s attorney Jay Meisenhelder released the following statement following Bowen’s termination:
“Officer Bowen obviously disagrees with the Merit Commission’s decision to terminate his employment – not with the decision that he violated Greenwood Police Department policies, but with the decision that termination was the appropriate punishment, and he’s disappointed that the Commission chose to ignore what we believe was very clear evidence of retaliation by Chief Ison.
The Commission’s decision does not change the fact that Chief Ison retaliated against Officer Bowen because of Officer Bowen’s constitutionally-protected speech, political speech, which is itself a violation of the Department’s policies.
On the positive side, Chief Ison admitted under oath that he revoked Officer Bowen’s Off-Duty Employment privileges and took asway Officer Bowen’s take home car privileges because of Officer Bowen’s protected, political speech. That essentially proves our federal court Complaint, and now we intend to go forward and win our case in federal court.”