News and Tribune

January 7, 2014

IN-DEPTH LOOK: Clark County court personnel under investigation

Intimidation, abuse of power allegations made

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — A Clark County judge has ordered an investigation following the incarceration of a participant in the Clark County Drug Treatment program.

That probe by a private investigator is complete but is not being released by Vicki Carmichael, the judge who hired the private investigator, nor Jerry Jacobi, the judge that requested it.

However, the investigation’s invoice points to the arrest of a participant in Clark County’s drug court, which is overseen by Jacobi’s Circuit Court No. 2. The invoice, obtained from the  Clark County Auditor’s Office, reveals the investigation was conducted by Fleeman Investigations Inc., of Sellersburg, for $1,050 for 15 hours billed. The findings of the investigation — paid for by public tax dollars — have been deemed a personnel matter and, therefore, have not been disclosed to the News and Tribune, despite a public information request.

The invoice has the signature of Carmichael, Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 judge.

Carmichael, the presiding circuit court judge in Clark County, recently said she had retained the services of Jack Fleeman after Jacobi had come to her requesting the investigation into his court’s personnel.

Jacobi could have requested the investigation without Carmichael’s approval, but his decision to proceed though her was acceptable procedure, Carmichael said. Jacobi’s circuit court hosts and shares an overview of the drug court program with the Clark County Probation Department.

Carmichael and Jacobi have reviewed the investigation report from Fleeman, but she said she would not discuss the findings. Jacobi repeatedly declined a request for an interview.

While no one has made a confirmation on the record, it appears the investigation Fleeman conducted was into Clark County Drug Treatment Program officials making contact with one of the program’s participants in the community, specifically an incident involving bailiff Jeremy Snelling placing the participant in handcuffs while Susan Knoebel, the drug court’s director, supervised. It is unknown if other incidents involving drug court officials were included in Fleeman’s investigation.

The invoice of Fleeman’s investigation does shed some light on undisclosed findings, as a portion of the invoice reads “Hendrick arrest.”

James Dakota Hendrick, 21, is a Clark County Drug Treatment Court participant who was arrested Sept. 23 after being taken from his place of employment, Rocky’s Sub Pub restaurant in Jeffersonville.

Hendrick said Snelling and Knoebel entered the business about 2:30 p.m. that day, and he was handcuffed by Snelling while inside the restaurant and that he was then put into a county vehicle and taken by the two to the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex where he then began a 32-day jail stint for violating terms of drug court.

Snelling has said he has never placed a drug court participant in handcuffs. Knoebel said she had, at one point, witnessed Snelling put a drug court participant in hand restraints, but declined to say who, when or where.

Without the investigation being disclosed, many questions remain unanswered — including procedures of program officials during field visits with drug court participants — but what is clear is the cozy nature of the ordering of the investigation.

At Jacobi’s request, Carmichael hired Fleeman, a bailiff in Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 and husband of one of her court staff members, and the invoice Fleeman provided was approved by Clark County Auditor Monty Snelling, the father of Jeremy Snelling, who is believed to be a subject of the investigation.



DRUG COURT DIRECTOR

Knoebel was interviewed with her attorney Larry Wilder present — Wilder said he expects to be paid with taxpayer dollars — during the conversation in her office Friday, Jan. 3. The two said that Knoebel was not permitted to speak about any specific drug court participant because of state and federal confidentiality rights.

Knoebel did say she has made nearly 100 field visits with drug court participants in the last year. When asked how many of those calls she made with Snelling, Knoebel said, “I can’t give you an exact number of the two of us, specifically, because they [field visits] have been done with more than just the two of us. Case managers have also done those.”

Knoebel said of the field visits she has made in that time, a law enforcement agency was present, “not very often.” She said during field visits that she, Snelling and the drug court’s caseworkers all arm themselves with firearms for safety and wear badges for identification.

“We go out. We verify addresses. We just verify their living arrangements making sure they live in a clean and sober environment,” she said.

Some of the field visits go further than an address verification, however, as some drug court participants, such as Hendrick, have been contacted in the community and taken to jail by drug court staff members.

During the interview, Knoebel was told that Snelling has previously said that he has served “transportation warrants” during field visits to drug court participants who have an active warrant for their arrests, and that Snelling said he will inform the participant that a warrant is active for his or her arrest and then, essentially, will offer that person a ride to the jail, if the participant “surrenders.”

Knoebel said that was a fair characterization of the field visits, clarifying that if a person agrees to come with drug court staff during a field visit, those staff members will transport the person to the Clark County jail for incarceration.

Knoebel said Snelling was assigned to the drug court staff by Jacobi, and when he is in the field he is not working as a bailiff, but under her supervision as a “field officer.”

Early in the interview, Knoebel denied that she or any of her drug court staff had ever drawn a firearm or placed a participant in handcuffs during a field visit.

She later provided clarification: “I did not say I was never with Snelling when someone was placed in handcuffs. You asked if I had ever placed anybody in handcuffs, and I have never placed anybody in handcuffs. And, you asked if I or Snelling had ever arrested anyone, and we have not arrested anyone.”

While Knoebel says she and her staff don’t have arrest authority and haven’t made arrests, she also said, “We have ... Mr. Snelling has placed someone in handcuffs for the voluntary surrender and transportation back to the jail pursuant to the [drug court] handbook, so a warrant can be served once they arrive at the jail.”

She also provided a copy the manual, Indiana Probation Safety and Security. Knoebel said the document is approved by the Indiana Judicial Center and had been adopted by the head of the Clark County Probation Department, Henry Ford.

A introductory caveat of the manual includes the following statement, “This is not an official publication of the Indiana Supreme Court, nor should it be considered an authoritative statement of Indiana Law.”

Knoebel attributed her staff’s authority to handcuff and transport drug court participants, in the safety manual’s Chapter 7, Transportation.

The chapter reads that “probation officers may be required to transport adult or juvenile probations.”

While the document approves of a probation officer transporting participants, it does not say that a field officer, such as Snelling, has the authority. Knoebel said she believes Snelling had the power to place a participant in handcuffs because it took place under her direct supervision.

Knoebel said a person with no law enforcement training can be granted the power to carry a firearm and badge and enter the community and place people in handcuffs before taking them to jail, as long as they are a Clark County employee and receive Jacobi’s approval.

Snelling has denied ever placing a drug court participant in handcuffs or drawing a firearm during a field visit.



JERRY WESTMORELAND

Intimidation and the impersonation of law enforcement is how the director of a Jeffersonville halfway house described the presence of Knoebel and Snelling during a late-night field visit to his establishment in September.

Jerry Westmoreland, the director of Jerry’s Place Recovery House, located on Eighth Street, said Knoebel and Snelling came to Jerry’s Place about 10:30 p.m. in late September, but he wasn’t sure of the exact date.

“My house manager called me and said that Knoebel and Jeremy [Snelling] were there checking on the guys,” Westmoreland said.

Of the nearly 25 men who reside at Jerry’s Place — all with histories of drug or alcohol abuse — Westmoreland said Knoebel and Snelling were only interested in about five residents, all participants of the Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program.

All the men were away from the home, with permission from Westmoreland, at the time of Knoebel and Snelling’s arrival. Westmoreland explained that he rewards his clients’ good behavior by providing passes that allow them to be away from the facility, but Knoebel and Snelling took issue with his rules.

“This is their [Knoebel and Snelling’s] deal. They try to run my program. If I think someone deserves a pass, if they earn a pass, I will give them a pass,” Westmoreland said. “Well, they didn’t like it. So, they called them [the participants] back [to the facility].”

Westmoreland said he became upset after Knoebel and Snelling told him told him how to operate his program.

He said Knoebel and Snelling wore badges and carried firearms onto the property in what he says was an act of intimidation. He said his other non-drug court clients in the home at the time also found Knoebel and Snelling’s actions to be threatening.

Knoebel has said that she does not agree with Westmoreland’s characterization of her and Snelling at his facility.

“To my knowledge, no. I have never felt that I have intimidated Mr. Westmoreland,” Knoebel said. “Every visit I have had with Mr. Westmoreland has been cordial, and I have never impersonated a police officer. Not to any halfway house director. Not to any halfway house. To anyone.”

Westmoreland said all of the participants, excluding Hendrick, returned to Jerry’s Place after they were contacted by phone. Westmoreland said he had explained to Knoebel and Snelling that Hendrick’s cell phone was broken, offered them an alternative number to reach Hendrick, and told them he knew where Hendrick was located at the time.

Westmoreland said the two told him, “I don’t care. We are going to revoke him.”

Westmoreland said he regularly works closely with court officials and receives clients from all four Clark County Circuit courts in addition to Floyd, Harrison, Scott and Washington counties and Kentucky, but has only experienced, what he considers, intimidation tactics with officials from Clark County Circuit Court No. 2.

No one was taken into custody during Knoebel’s and Snelling’s visit to Jerry’s Place, and Westmoreland said, nearly three months later, he still isn’t sure why they visited his establishment.

“That’s what I could not understand, what their purpose was,” Westmoreland said. “They [Knoebel and Snelling] have a real problem wanting to intimate people, from what I hear. But, I have seen it. After I seen it, myself, I believe it.

“I am in the business of helping other people. But, I can’t help them if those type of people are going to intimidate them.”

Westmoreland said that two days after the visit, he was contacted by Knoebel and Snelling and told them that Hendrick had returned to Jerry’s Place before his curfew two nights before.

“He did everything he was supposed to do in my program,” Westmoreland said of Hendrick.



JAMES DAKOTA ‘CODY’ HENDRICK

Hendrick gave an account to the News and Tribune of what happened during the field visit that he claims was made by Snelling and Knoebel at Rocky’s Sub Pub on Sept. 23.

He first explained that after returning to Jerry’s Place from his authorized pass from the facility, he was told of the field visit the night before. Hendrick said it was cause for concern that he was not there during their visit. Hendrick said he immediately called the drug court emergency phone number and left a message that he had returned to Jerry’s Place and could be reached, if needed.

The call was returned, which Hendrick said he missed, but a voicemail was left that he paraphrased as saying, “We know you were on weekend pass. Call with any questions.”

He said the message was left on his phone by a drug court case worker.

The next day, Hendrick went to work at Rocky’s where he works as a host. He said that he had received a call from the Rocky’s phone from another case manger saying he needed to physically check in with drug court staff, “as soon as possible.”

Hendrick said he felt it was permissible to wait until his work shift ended — hours later around 2:30 p.m. — to make the face-to-face check-in. At some point during the day, Knoebel obtained a warrant for Hendrick’s arrest.

According to court records, the warrant was requested for  “ …. participant’s continued non-response to drug court staff.”

Hendrick has a blemished record of violations after entering the drug court program in or near May 2012. Court records show at least four violations, including one positive drug screen and missing community service.

Hendrick’s Clark County arrest history shows two sets of criminal charges, once in March 2011, at the age of 19, and again in December 2011. Both arrests were marijuana-related and led to a total of four class D felony and two misdemeanors charges.

Since entering the drug program, Hendrick, who remains in the program and lives at Jerry’s Place, has not been charged of any new criminal activity. He has only been found in violation of drug court rules, according to court records.

Westmoreland, who has been involved in the staffing committee of the Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program, said it appears the drug court officials are not adhering to the spirit of the program.

"One of the things we really force some of the people [drug court participants] is to get honest," he said. "So, if they [drug court officials] are not honest, how can we put other people in jail for not being honest? Am I right?"