News and Tribune

February 3, 2014

Special prosecutor to decide on Clark County Drug Court investigation

Stewart files petition with Clark County clerk on Monday


JEFFERSONVILLE — Clark County Prosecutor Steve Stewart has deferred to a special prosecutor to determine if criminal charges will be issued against Clark County Drug Court Treatment Program personnel who are subjects of an Indiana State Police investigation.

In the petition for the appointment of a special prosecutor filed with the Clark County clerk’s office on Monday, Stewart wrote that he “feels that the appointment of a special prosecutor is reasonable and necessary in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety during any further investigation of this case, if any.”  

Before filing the petition, Stewart said his office had received a “nearly complete” investigation from ISP related to possible criminal misconduct of drug court employees.

Stewart said he is sure additional documentation from the ISP investigation will be filed before it is considered closed.

According to the petition, “In January 2014, the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney was advised that the Indiana State Police Department had opened an investigation relating to allegations of abuses by officers and employees of the Clark County Circuit Court #2 Drug Court, including allegations which may constitute crimes under Indiana law.”

Without the ISP investigation being publicly disclosed and the petition filed by Stewart not identifying any individuals’ names, it’s uncertain which drug court employees, specifically, are the focus of the investigation.

Stewart did say that both Susan Knoebel, the program’s director who was fired Jan. 28, and Jeremy Snelling, a Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 bailiff and former drug court field officer, who was placed on unpaid suspension Jan. 7, could be among the subjects of the investigation.

“The phraseology in the special prosecutor petition, purposely, did not name a specific person because I didn’t want to be limited to just an individual or individuals,” Stewart said. “What the state police has been investigating are perceived illegalities and irregularities with the drug court and that may not be limited to [Susan] Knoebel and  [Jeremy] Snelling.”

In early January, News and Tribune revealed an investigation by Fleeman Investigations Inc., a private firm hired with taxpayer dollars to look into two field visits made by Knoebel and Snelling. One of the incidents involved a visit to a drug participant’s home and the other to a participant’s place of work.

Stewart said, however, that the ISP investigation incorporates more than the two field visits cited in the Fleeman investigation that were carried out with no law enforcement officials present.

“It [the ISP investigation] definitely includes more [than the two field visits],” he said, adding that ISP has looked into alleged due process violations that include drug court program participants’ lengthy terms in the Clark County jail without being brought before a judge or provided legal counsel.

Allegations have surfaced of drug court participants being unlawfully incarcerated and stripped of their due process rights, including the case of Destiny Hoffman, who was jailed for nearly five months without seeing a judge.

Stewart said that the ISP investigation has looked into possible violations that could lead to civil actions, but those alleged violations are separate from the criminal allegations that the special [state] prosecutor would be tasked with determining whether or not to issue criminal charges.

“I think it is important to get an overall picture of the officers and the employees of the drug court and what their MO [method of operation] was in dealing with the drug court participants,” Stewart said. “That is why everything is on the table for them [ISP].”

Stewart said the appointment of the special prosecutor will be held in Judge Joe Weber’s Clark County Circuit Court No. 3.

Stewart had the option to file the petition in any of the county’s four circuit courts, excluding Judge Jerry Jacobi’s Circuit Court No. 2, because his court oversees the drug court program.

He said the case could be heard in Weber’s court, unless issued charges are more severe than class D felonies.

If the issued charges are class C felonies or above, the case would be transferred to Clark County Circuit Court No. 1 or No. 4.

Which special prosecutor will be assigned to scrutinize and later determine if criminal charges are appropriate has yet to be appointed.

Jacobi has not commented on matters relating to his court, citing an ongoing investigation.