NEW ALBANY — One month after a New Albany Housing Authority resident said he felt threatened by a comment the interim director made about him that the director says was originally meant as a joke, little has been done on the part of the agencies the resident complained to, two of which say they found no legal or policy violation.
Brandon Brown, a six-year resident of NAHA, filed actions with the New Albany Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, the Indiana State Police, the New Albany Police Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after NAHA Interim Director David Duggins instructed a New Albany police officer to shoot Brown with his stun gun on Jan. 22 after a NAHA board meeting that Brown taped with his cell phone.
Duggins apologized to Brown for his comment later in an email, and told the News and Tribune that while it was insensitive, he meant no malice toward Brown. Duggins said he prefaced his comment by saying that next time when Brown filmed the meeting he should get his good side, and if he didn’t, the police officer should shoot Brown with his stun gun. Brown’s account differs. He says that Duggins asked him if Brown was on his side, and then said something that sounded like “since you like videotaping,” before he told the officer to shoot Brown with his stun gun.
Brown is also a member of We Are New Albany, a group of NAHA residents and Indiana activists who oppose the board’s plan to demolish 515 units and give displaced residents housing vouchers.
After the exchange, Brown took steps to report Duggins, as well as the police officer to whom the comment was directed, who Brown said didn’t respond with proper concern. The officer, Cory Schneider, did not reprimand Duggins after the comment, but instead engaged in a joking conversation with him, Brown said.
Brown filed a report with the Indiana State Police against Duggins. The agency took his statement and forwarded the information on to the Office of the Floyd County Prosecutor. Brown was later told by an ISP officer that Prosecutor Keith Henderson decided not to file criminal charges. Duggins, who deferred to NAHA Board of Commissioners president Irving Joshua for additional comment, confirmed this. The Prosecutor’s Office did not reply to an email for comment and Brown said Henderson has not called him back to explain why he had made his decision.
The New Albany Police Department also has completed its review of the stun gun comment and its aftermath, prompted by the formal complaint made against its police officer, and has determined that no policy violations occurred, said New Albany Police Chief Todd Bailey in an email. No punitive actions were taken against Schneider either.
“I will say however it was a good training opportunity for Officer Schneider as well as the rest of the department,” said Bailey.
New Albany police officers are required to take action if they believe a criminal violation takes place in their presence, according to the department's standard operating procedures, but Indiana law also requires that the person issuing the threat must intentionally intimidate the victim so that they fear they'll be punished for engaging in a prior, lawful act, for their threat to be considered criminal.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, meanwhile, has not contacted NAHA about Brown’s complaint, Duggins said.
The NAHA board has yet to address Brown’s complaint, which Brown mailed to Joshua.
Joshua said that personal problems have prevented him from scheduling a private, executive session among board members regarding the complaint, but that he plans to in the future. First, he has to ask Duggins to provide him with a written summary of what happened, as well as one from Schneider.
Joshua said that he believes the board will have to do something about what Duggins said, although Joshua did not elaborate on what that could be. In a previous interview, Joshua used sensitivity training as an example of what the board could have Duggins do. In the past, as with the last housing director, the board has fired its head staff member.
If the board does take action, Joshua said he would not divulge what that action was afterward.
Personally, Joshua said he didn’t think Duggins’ comment was appropriate, even if it was a joke.
“This is just not the atmosphere where you would say something like that,” he said.
Joshua did stress that he did not think Duggins posed a serious threat to Brown.
Brown, on the other hand, said he is still taking steps to avoid Duggins. He paid his rent recently using a box outside of the NAHA office instead of going inside, and he did not attend the last NAHA meeting. Brown said that he doesn’t want to attend a meeting unless We Are New Albany hires an attorney who can represent the group at gatherings.
Brown said he has heard little from anyone after he filed his complaints, not just from the agencies, but from the public and government officials.
“It just shows me, it kind of makes me feel like it’s not a priority to them about the way the local government is run, and the positions, who they’re held by,” he said.
Brown said that he is the kind of person who wants change.