By Mike Perleberg
(Lawrenceburg, Ind.) - Are the Lawrenceburg chief of police and city officials targeting a former police officer because he blew the whistle on alleged illegal activity?
That is the claim being made by former city councilman and police captain Doug Taylor and his attorney, Richard Butler. Taylor, a 22-year veteran officer with Lawrenceburg and other departments before that, is fighting to keep his job following criminal charges for campaigning while in uniform in 2011.
The Lawrenceburg Board of Works did not act on Taylor’s employment during a crowded, marathon Wednesday evening court-style hearing where testimony was heard from witnesses including Lawrenceburg Chief of Police Gene Hunefeld and Prosecutor Aaron Negangard. The BOW advised by city attorney Leslie Votaw acted as the defacto judge in the hearing.
A vote on Taylor’s job could be held at another BOW hearing scheduled for Tuesday, September 10 at 4:00 p.m. Taylor remains on administrative leave from the police department as he has since his arrest.
In March, Taylor reached a deferred prosecution agreement with a special prosecutor which could reduce his felony charges of Ghost Employment and Official Misconduct to misdemeanors. The agreement included Taylor resigning his city council seat.
If he satisfies the conditions of the agreement, Taylor’s charges will be reduced to two misdemeanors, Campaigning in a Police Uniform and Conversion.
During the public of the BOW – the entity that oversees city employees, including the police department – Butler said Taylor does not deny that he appeared at an April 2011 campaign event while on duty and wearing his police uniform. That action led to the criminal charges.
What Butler does question is why Chief Gene Hunefeld and Mayor Dennis Carr have sought to terminate Taylor’s employment. By contrast and by the chief’s admission, he did not pursue the firings of at least three other officers who have been convicted of criminal charges in the past.
Being grilled by Butler during the court-style hearing, Hunefeld said he did not pursue the firing of those officers because he claimed he was not aware of the specifics of their cases. At least two of the cases mentioned by Butler included battery charges.
“Tell me honestly Chief. You’re picking on Officer Taylor. You all want to hang him and this is how you’re going to do it and your prosecutor with an unfavorable opinion of him has helped you all do it. That’s what’s happening here tonight and you’ve all talked about it,” Butler grilled Hunefeld.
The city’s motivation in attempting to fire Taylor, according to Butler, is not his criminal charges. The police captain had only been reprimanded by Hunefeld – who promoted him to captain a year or two earlier – following his arrest.
Rather, the process to fire Taylor only began after a March 14 public letter to Dearborn-Ohio County Prosecutor Aaron Negangard asking for an investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Mayor Carr and various city leaders, Butler claimed.
“This is retaliation for blowing the whistle,” Butler said.
Although Taylor was the only person to sign it, City Councilman and Board of Works member Bill Bill Bruner said that he doesn’t believe Taylor was alone in crafting the letter to Negangard. Nobody at the hearing said who they believe also had a hand in it. The letter was issued just a day after Taylor signed his deferred prosecution agreement and resigned from council, fellow councilman and BOW member Aaron Cook pointed out.
Hunefeld said Taylor’s criminal case makes him a less effective police officer. The attorney representing Hunefeld, Jeremy Dilts of Bloomington, insisted that Taylor’s criminal activity is the only reason the chief is pursuing his dismissal.
“The very function of the police department is to uphold the law. An officer who breaks the law he is supposed to uphold is not the kind of representative the Lawrenceburg Police Department wants among its ranks,” said Dilts.
Butler alleged that the BOW already has its mind made up on Taylor’s employment. Carr, Bruner, Cook, and fellow BOW member Donnie Bryant insisted they were holding the hearing to hear evidence and consider Taylor’s employment after that.
During his less than two years on council, Taylor’s was often opposed by Cook, Bruner, and Carr on key issues such as the city budget and riverboat revenue grant programs.
“So it looks like to us that there is bias. There is prejudice,” Butler stated.
Along with Hunefeld, Prosecutor Negangard was the co-starring witness of the evening. The prosecutor said he informed the police chief he would no longer take cases Taylor investigated because of his criminal case.
“It very much hinders the ability to prosecute any case if a police officer has admitted to a crime of dishonesty,” Negangard said, adding that those officers can be asked to testify about their convictions during other trials.
“I do not have a favorable opinion of Mr. Taylor,” Negangard answered to a question from Butler.
Negangard said he did not order an investigation into the allegations outlined in Taylor’s March letter, because he was aware of an apparently ongoing investigation into the City of Lawrenceburg by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Indiana State Police. Taylor’s letter – also provided to Eagle 99.3 the day it was delivered to the prosecutor’s office – stated that the FBI and ISP were given copies. Even Butler had provided information to the federal investigators, the prosecutor said.
The FBI investigation, the prosecutor claimed, had began some time before Taylor delivered the letter.
Negangard revealed little about the FBI Special Government Corruption Task Force’s investigation, saying he did not know much about it.
Negangard said he believes Taylor may have hindered the investigation. Taylor is not interested in a good result if crimes are being committed in the city, but rather creating publicity against his political opponents, he said.
The prosecutor said he will carry out the responsibilities of an elected prosecutor regarding the city investigation when it is time.
“At times, I wanted to take further action. I agreed with the assistant U.S. Attorney handling the investigation to wait until the FBI and Indiana State Police investigation was complete,” Negangard said. “I saw your client’s actions (the letter) as a hindrance to that since it was made public.”
The day after Taylor’s letter went public in March, Negangard issued a response calling the allegations “vindictive” and pursuing an investigation would be a “waste of taxpayer money.” He did not completely dismiss the allegations, however, saying no further action would be taken “at this time” in what now appears as a hint at what may lie ahead with the FBI investigation.