News and Tribune

January 11, 2014

Suspended Clark County court employee says he followed judge's orders

Supervising Judge Jerry Jacobi remains silent

By GARY POPP
gary.popp@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — One of two Clark County employees recently placed on unpaid leave following an investigation into court personnel said the only thing he is guilty of is following orders.

Jeremy Snelling said he was “shocked” to hear from Judge Jerry Jacobi on Tuesday afternoon of his suspension.

“I am just kind of like the low man on the totem pole,” Snelling said. “If someone, I guess, is going to take a hit, they would rather it be me than someone else.”

The father of three said he has lost sleep under the stress of not knowing how he will support his family in the future.

“My life has gone to a living hell for doing, I feel, nothing wrong,” Snelling said after being placed on unpaid leave. “And, I am getting hit from every direction.”

Jacobi has declined comment to the News and Tribune on multiple occasions related to possible investigations into drug court.

Until recently, Snelling was a bailiff in Jacobi’s Clark Circuit Court No. 2 and worked as a field officer with the Clark County Drug Treatment Program that is administered by the court. Jacobi also placed Susan Knoebel, the drug court’s director and Clark County probation officer, on suspension without pay Tuesday.

A voice message was left on Knoebel’s cell phone Friday to offer her the opportunity to provide further comment, but the call was not returned before press time.



FOLLOWING ORDERS

During an interview Thursday at the law office of Mosley, Bertrand, Jacobs and McCall in Jeffersonville, Snelling sat down with attorney Bradley Jacobs.

Jacobs said he is not representing Snelling, but will serve as his legal counsel if charges are issued by the Office of the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office.

Snelling claims that he was directly told by Jacobi to conduct an act that the judge later made the subject of an investigation. Snelling said he was told in the court’s office by Jacobi on Sept. 23 to go out into the community and bring a drug court participant to the Clark County jail. Snelling, a field officer, and supervisor Knoebel went to Rocky’s Sub Pub restaurant where James Dakota Hendrick, 21, was finishing up a work shift.

Following Knoebel’s request, a warrant had been obtained earlier in the day for “continued nonresponse to drug court staff,” according to court documents.

In the restaurant, Snelling placed Hendrick in handcuffs then he and Knoebel took the drug court participant to the Michael L. Becher Adult Correctional Complex. At the jail, a Clark County Sheriff’s deputy served a warrant, and Hendrick began a 32-day incarceration for drug court violations.

In two previous News and Tribune stories on this matter, it was stated that Snelling had said he had never placed a drug court official in handcuffs. During the Thursday interview, Snelling said he has placed many drug court participants in handcuffs prior to transporting them to jail.

Snelling said his contact with Hendrick was routine for the drug program, and he has no idea why Jacobi would have called for an investigation into the incident.

“The day I went to escort [Hendrick], my understanding is that was my duties — to go get him and follow safety rules,” Snelling said. “Like I said, if I ever thought in a million years I had done anything that might have been illegal or wrong in any way, I would have told the judge straight up, ‘No. I will not do it.’ And, if he fired me, he fired me — because I’m not ever going to break the law or do anything that I thought was wrong.”

Snelling has been paid from a grant when working as a field officer outside of his duty as a bailiff for the court.

He said after Jacobi ordered him go out in the community and bring back Hendrick, his dual roles in the court became blurred, as the instruction was given in the middle of a day when he was on the clock as a bailiff.

“He [Jacobi] told me to go get Cody [Hendrick], bring him back and excused me from the courtroom,” Snelling said.

When asked if he was working as a bailiff or a field officer when he went to Rocky’s and placed Hendrick in handcuffs, Snelling said, “At that time, I really don’t know how to distinguish both — just an employee of Judge Jacobi.”

Like Knoebel said for a previous interview, Snelling says he does not have arrest powers, nor has he ever arrested anyone. He only transports drug court participants from the community to the jail if he or she surrenders.

Snelling said that when he approached Hendrick at Rocky’s on Sept. 23, he first informed Hendrick of the active warrant, then asked Hendrick if he was willing to go to jail. He said Hendrick turned around and put his arms behind his back to be handcuffed, without having to be asked to do so.

“No way in the world have I ever arrested anyone,” Snelling said. “I know 100 percent I didn’t arrest ‘Cody’ [Hendrick],”

Hendrick provided a slightly different account for a previous interview, saying that Snelling simply asked him to put his hands behind his back before he was handcuffed.



HANDING HIM OFF

Snelling also provided an account of what transpired when he, Knoebel and Hendrick arrived at the jail.

“As we were going down the [Clark County jail’s] sally port, Cody [Hendrick] was crying his eyes out. ‘I said Cody, it will be OK,” Snelling said.

Snelling said Hendrick asked if he could be released from the handcuffs so he could wipe the tears from his face before entering the jail.

“I said, ‘Cody, I tell you what, just hold still,’ I grabbed a napkin … I wiped the boy’s tears away,” Snelling said. “Now, if I am a jerk and I’m trying to be mean to this guy, why in the world would I do something as kind-gestured as that?”

Snelling said after entering the jail, he handed Hendrick off to Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Cole Wilcoxson to serve the arrest warrant.

“That was the last time I had heard about this or saw anything until recently that there was an issue,” Snelling said.

Hendrick’s booking sheet for the arrest was provided by the Clark County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. It reads that the arresting officer is Snelling and the arresting agency is the Clark County Sheriff’s Office.

Snelling said he refers to portions of the Indiana Probation Safety and Security manual to stay within the guidelines of proper procedure, including handcuffing and the transportation of drug court participants. He said his supervisors, including Jacobi, have told him to follow the applicable procedures in the manual.

The manual gives guidelines specifically to probation officers, which Snelling is not.

Knoebel has said the guidelines apply to Snelling because he works under her supervision.

“[These are] the only guidelines that we have to reference from and even though I am not an official probation officer, I am working under either the probation department control or judge Jacobi’s control,” Snelling said. “I just do what my boss tells me to do.”