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No criminal charges against ex-Columbus police chief following nearly two year probe

Jon Rohde had two other jobs while police chief
A special prosecutor announced Friday afternoon he will not file criminal charges against former Columbus police chief Jon Rohde following a nearly two-year probe by Indiana State Police and the Indiana State Board of Accounts into his outside employment while chief.
Posted at 7:26 PM, Jan 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-25 11:08:05-05

COLUMBUS — A special prosecutor announced Friday afternoon he will not file criminal charges against former Columbus police chief Jon Rohde following a nearly two-year probe by Indiana State Police and the Indiana State Board of Accounts into his outside employment while chief.

In 2020, WRTV Investigates reported Jon Rohde worked two other jobs, a security guard at a hospital and a mediator for the Indiana Office of Court Services, while he was police chief.

Special prosecutor Doug Brown of Decatur County refers to Rohde as “the target” in his report issued Friday.

“I don’t like the optics of the target serving as an administrative officer for the Columbus Police Department while also working second and third paid positions during routine business hours of the Columbus Police Department,” Brown's report read. “Poor optics, not criminal conduct. There is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the target engaged in criminal conduct.”

Police administration hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m., according to the city’s website.

WRTV Investigates spent months analyzing time records and counted at least 131 days between 2015 and 2018 in which Rohde’s work with the city appeared to overlap with his shift at Columbus Regional Hospital.

WRTV Investigates also counted 68 days between May 2014 and 2018, while Rohde was police chief, in which Rohde reported working a full day at the police department, but also worked for court services, sometimes for hours.

The special prosecutor noted in his report Friday that the city’s human resources director said that police department administrators “do not have set hours,” and the city attorney confirmed the CPD administration are considered salaried and exempt, with an expectation to work 160 hours in a 28-day cycle and be on call “24/7/365.”

“The target obviously worked very hard to keep all three supervisors happy with his work product,” wrote Brown in his report. “He was also involved in the launch of Executime on January 1, 2019 and should be credited for resolving the department’s time-keeping issue.”

In 2020, two former Columbus Police Department officers, Daniel Meister and Ronald May, pleaded guilty to ghost employment after Indiana State Police found they worked security at Columbus Regional Hospital while on duty for the city.

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The special prosecutor noted in this report that two of Rohde’s subordinate officers “accepted criminal responsibility for receiving simultaneous compensation from the Columbus Police Department and Columbus Regional Hospital during a period of time from February 2015 to August 2018.”

Brown also pointed out that Meister and May were not allowed to “flex” their schedule and Rohde even told a local newspaper, “Flex time is not in (the Columbus Police Department) policies or directives or utilized.”

But Rohde did “flex” his schedule, Brown pointed out.

However, because Rohde did not apparently have set working hours, the special prosecutor could not find criminal conduct.

Jon Rohde is now a Superior Court 2 judge.

WRTV Investigates left him a message Friday afternoon seeking comment to Brown’s report.

The former Columbus police chief dodged questions from WRTV in 2020.

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RohdeDriving Away.PNG
Bartholomew County Superior Court 2 Judge-elect John Rohde dodged questions from WRTV Investigates after taking the oath of office on December 18, 2020.

Rohde served as police chief from 2014 to the end of 2019.

The Indiana State Board of Accounts released its audit of the Columbus Police Department on January 14.

It found 5 administrative officers and 17 non-administrative police officers had overlapping time with the city and working security at a local hospital.

“No documentation existed to document the normal working hours for these administrative officers,” read the State Board of Accounts audit. “Because administrative officers may work non-standard business hours, we recommend that the City perform its own analysis and recover any overpayments identified.”

The audit does not name any specific officers and does not request any of them reimburse taxpayers.

Jennifer E. Gauger, Chief of Staff at the Indiana State Board of Accounts, told WRTV in an email that the city has updated its policies and procedures and strengthened their internal controls.

“We feel confident that the measures implemented would prevent this situation from arising in the future,” said Gauger in an email to WRTV. “We made an audit judgment to defer to the city’s forensic analysis to determine which non-administrative officers, if any, had overlapping time necessitating an overpayment recovery. As such, there was no reason or benefit to naming individual officers in our report. We do, however, plan to monitor the city’s response.”

Lt. Matthew Harris, a spokesperson for Columbus Police, told WRTV in an email the City of Columbus is planning to conduct an internal analysis.

Special prosecutor Chris Gaal conducted a separate investigation for the 17 non-administrative police officers and 5 administrative officers, excluding Jon Rohde, and declined to file criminal charges including ghost employment and theft.

Gaal released his report to WRTV on January 22.

Gaal said there were often "reasonable explanations for overlapping hours, including training, special detail duties, and other informal changes that were approved by supervisors yet not recorded accurately," read Gaal's report. "As such, the possibility of human error cannot be discounted as a reasonable explanation for overlapping hours."

Gaal also criticized the department's time keeping system prior to 2019.

"Because this system relied on multiple written copies that were not reliably updated, shared, and/or retained it appears to have been rife with inaccuracy, and/or created at least the potential for manipulation," said Gaal in his report.

While most police officers spend their days and nights going out on runs in the community, the role of a police chief is much more administrative in nature, plus it’s a salaried position, rather than hourly.

"Ghost employment is basically stealing from the government," said Arthur Lopez, an Indiana University business law and ethics professor. “It’s where you go out there and you have a preexisting duty to do a job but during that time, you're doing something else, some other job— so you're basically stealing."

In addition to his work as the police chief and security guard at the hospital, Rohde had a third job as well.

Rohde worked as a mediator for the Indiana Office of Court Services. As an attorney, he helped resolve mortgage foreclosure cases between homeowners and banks.

Records show Rohde billed the Indiana Office of Court Services for hundreds of phone and in-person conferences.

WRTV Investigates looked up every single court case number Rohde mediated and found that all of the conferences took place during normal business hours, typically between 1 - 4:30 p.m.

For example, on August 3, 2017, records show Rohde was in 10 different court hearings as a mediator from 1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

That same day, records show he also claimed to be working a full day at the Columbus Police Department.

Former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown appointed Rohde, who became chief in May 2014.

“I had no idea he was doing this when he worked for me,” Brown told WRTV in 2020. “It kind of makes you wonder — when did he have time to be the police chief?”

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former columbus mayor kristen brown
Former Columbus, Indiana Mayor Kristen Brown

Brown said it’s important for the police chief to be at the police department during business hours to respond to questions and concerns from officers, citizens, the mayor and the city council.

"They expect the police chief to be there Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,” Brown said. “That's his job."

Brown was concerned about the chief’s outside employment.

“A friend of mine was going through a foreclosure and she said you'll never guess who my mediator was, the police chief," Brown said.

Brown said Columbus police officers are not allowed to just shift their schedules around to accommodate another job.

She also points to city policy that says “All officers shall report to duty on or before the scheduled time and shall not be absent without leave."

Records also reflect that while Rohde occasionally used paid time off, such as holiday or vacation, to accommodate his other jobs at the hospital and court services, most of the time he did not.

Records show once investigations into officers Meister and May began, Rohde started using more paid time off on the days he worked other jobs.

“At the end of the day, it’s their hard-earned money,” Brown said. “Taxpayers should care. It’s their money.”

Records show that as police chief, Rohde earned more than $80,000 a year and after he stepped down as chief in 2019, he earned $105,363 a year as a police captain, records show.

His extra work at the hospital and court services brought in an additional $100,000 over the span of six years, records show.

“He can’t be paid by the city while he’s working for someone else,” Brown said. “That’s ghost employment.”

Former officers Meister and May received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty Dec. 23 to ghost employment, and repaid taxpayers $9,013.89.

In October 2019, the Indiana State Board of Accounts released an audit in which they asked Meister and May to repay taxpayers $9,013.89.

Rohde, who took office in 2014, had this to say about the audit in 2019:

“In all circumstances our officers are held to the highest of standards, and are expected to uphold and follow the law,” read Rohde’s 2019 statement on the audit. “We have held these officers accountable for their actions because it was not only the right thing to do, but also because it is extremely important that every member of our community continues to have confidence in the officers who serve them.”

WRTV Investigates asked Chief Michael Richardson and Mayor Jim Lienhoop to speak on camera and they declined.

City attorney Alan Whitted sent us the following statement in 2020:

“You sent requests for on-camera interviews to Mayor James Lienhoop, Police Chief Mike Richardson and Judge-elect Jonathan Rohde. They have asked me to respond on their behalf and all have declined your request for an on-camera interview.

We understand that you have questions regarding the timekeeping system in our police department and understand that it was a confusing system. The police department operates 24 hours a day and the officers from the newest patrol officer to the Chief of Police are required to be present at meetings, training, and emergencies that might arise outside of their regular working hours. Traditional work schedules aren’t always applicable and our goal is to respond to the needs of the community.

On January 1, 2019 we implemented a new digital timekeeping system with additional checks and balances. In an effort to be transparent, in 2018 we contacted the Indiana State Police to request investigations into timekeeping irregularities and have cooperated during the investigations conducted by ISP as well as the Indiana State Board of Accounts. We also continue to work with these agencies as they review our old time keeping system which should have been changed many years ago. However, since the cases involving two former CPD officers have yet to be adjudicated, we will not be making any additional statements or comments that could inadvertently affect the outcome of these cases.”

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