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February 1, 2014

Fired drug court director: I am a ‘scapegoat’

Susan Knoebel says she was following judge’s orders

JEFFERSONVILLE — Susan Knoebel says she has been put through “hell” as controversy grew surrounding the Clark County drug program she directed over the past few months.

It’s that and the scrutiny of two investigations that she said led to her firing Tuesday by Judge Jerry Jacobi, who oversees the Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program. She said although she ran the day-to-day operations of the program, the blame for any issues stretches beyond her.

“For me to be used as a scapegoat — I am a single mom with two boys [8 and 13 years old] who have health problems and my insurance runs out tomorrow,” Knoebel, who until recently was Clark Circuit Court No. 2’s chief probation officer, said, adding that her firing is politically motivated. “And, for them to be worried about re-election, you know, I have been put through hell with this.

“All I have done is my job to the best of my ability and followed the direction and orders of the judge I work for,” Knoebel said of Jacobi, who she says she has worked under for 14 years.

She said signs of trouble to come were first realized after Jacobi requested a private investigation that was conducted in October. The investigation looked into a home visit of a drug court participant and the arrest of another participant at this place of work, which both involved Knoebel and Jeremy Snelling, a bailiff in Jacobi’s court and former drug court field officer.

After the News and Tribune reported on the private investigation and an second investigation began by Indiana State Police surrounding those incidents, Jacobi placed Knoebel and Snelling on unpaid suspensions Jan. 7.

In the following weeks, allegations of participants being unlawfully incarcerated and stripped of their due process rights began to surface, including the case of a Jeffersonville woman drug court participant Destiny Hoffman, who was jailed for nearly five months without seeing a judge. The story received national and international media attention when outlets picked up the News and Tribune’s article.

The basis of Knoebel’s termination has not been provided by Clark County Chief Probation Officer Henry Ford, which he claims is a confidential personnel issue.

Even Knoebel said she is unsure why she was fired, but thinks that both the ISP investigation of the field visits and the complaints of due process violations led to Jacobi terminating her Tuesday.

Knoebel said she and Snelling carried out field visits at Jacobi’s direction and the alleged due process violations involve the entire program’s staffing committee, which is comprised of Jacobi, a magistrate, a defense attorney, a Clark County prosecutor, law enforcement officials and others.

While Snelling remains on suspension, Knoebel is still reeling from the shock of losing her job.

“Absolutely, I was surprised,” Knoebel said of her suspension and firing. “Judge Jacobi, ever since the original investigation started, he has always said, ‘You all have not done anything wrong’ and ‘This will all blow over. Keep your head up. Everything is fine.’”

Jacobi has not commented on matters pertaining to drug court. A court clerk said he would not comment because of an ongoing investigation.

Knoebel said her termination has tremendously effected her personal life and health.

“I have ended up in the hospital. I have had to go to the doctor several times,” Knoebel said. “They originally thought it could have been a heart attack, but it was stress and anxiety. They kept me overnight to observe and did a stress test. They said it was exhaustion, stress and anxiety.”

She said her family has suffered, too.

“It is really affecting my kids,” Knoebel said, adding one of boys is worried he will lose his mother. “He is so afraid that mommy is going to be taken away from him for doing her job,” referring to the possibility of criminal charges.

“This has been very, very difficult, personally.”

Knoebel’s attorney Lisa Glickfield — who was present during her interview with a News and Tribune reporter — said she was told Knoebel’s job was safe.

“I was told my Judge Jacobi, myself,  just days ago — it has been indicated to me that [Knoebel and Snelling’s] jobs are open. They are not filling those positions and just to make sure both Susan and Jeremy [Snelling] were aware their positions were waiting for them when they could come back,” Glickfield said. “That is why the termination came as such a shock.”

Knoebel said Jacobi has praised her job performance.

“I have emails [from Jacobi] saying that, ‘No one gets it done like you do. I am very proud of you. The drug court program is running so well because of you. ‘Congratulations, madam director,’ she said. “He has always been very complimentary until this last month. And, now, all of a sudden everything has changed.”

Jacobi requested that Clark Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael hire a private investigator to look into the field visits Knoebel and Snelling did to check on drug court participants. Carmichael hired private investigator Jack Fleeman, owner of Fleeman Investigations Inc., who was paid with taxpayer money.

“My understanding of why [the investigation] was asked for was to show that we did nothing wrong, and kind of head off any criticism because the judge [Jacobi] kept saying, ‘You guys did nothing wrong. You did nothing wrong. We will let him [Fleeman] do the investigation, and it will prove you that you guys did nothing wrong,’” Knoebel said.

After Fleeman began his investigation, ISP began its examination into the field visits carried out by Knoebel and Snelling. It has not been officially disclosed who is the subject of the ISP investigation, but Knoebel and Glickfield both believe that she is being targeted and that a prosecutor will have to determine whether criminal charges are appropriate.

“For me to be the target of an Indiana State Police investigation saying that I did all of this wrong, is just mind-boggling,” Knoebel said. “I would never do something knowing or intentionally to break the law. I would never do it. And, it is just very upsetting they are blaming all this on me.”

If the ISP turns in a report to the prosecutor seeking criminal charges against Knoebel, Glickfield said that doesn’t mean criminal charges will automatically be issued.

“The prosecutor will be the one who will ultimately make any decision regarding if any charges are filed,” Glickfield said. “I have seen all kinds of investigations where there is nothing there, and the prosecutor won’t even touch it with a 10-foot pole.

“I think that is extremely possible in this situation.”

Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart said he expects to make a decision soon on whether or not his office will file criminal charges related to the ISP investigation.

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