Saturday, September 20, 2003

Police indicted in Ind.

Whistleblower officers accuse four of corruption

By Robert Anglen and Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Scott McAdams

LAWRENCEBURG - The city's former police chief and three of his officers falsified employment records, destroyed evidence and intimidated people who opposed them, according to an 11-count indictment released Friday.

The indictment covers allegations made by five police officers 18 months ago, who said they had no choice but to publicly blow the whistle on what they called criminal wrongdoing by their commander and fellow officers.

The Dearborn County grand jury's findings drove a deeper wedge through this riverboat gambling town 20 minutes west of Cincinnati, where the accusations have fueled political squabbles and pitted the 17-member police force against businesses owners and each other.

"We feel that justice has finally been done," said Jill Lanning, the wife of one of the five officers who came forward. "We couldn't be more pleased. This says our husbands did the right thing.''

But City Manager Tom Steidel said nobody has yet been found guilty of anything.

"There are two sides here. The police department is split down the middle," he said. "Each side is constantly making allegations against the other."

A grand jury indicted officials on charges tied to on-the-job conduct:

Former Police Chief John Agner: Destruction of public records, theft, ghost employment (doing personal work on city time), intimidation.

Former Assistant Police Chief John E. Johnson Jr.: Criminal mischief, ghost employment and theft.

Former Police Officer Scott McAdams: Destruction of public records

Police Officer Morgan B. Hedrick: Criminal mischief, two counts of intimidation.

The indictments leveled criminal charges against former Chief John Agner; former Assistant Chief John E. Johnson Jr.; and two officers, Scott McAdams and Morgan B. Hedrick. The grand jury also considered theft allegations against Mayor Paul Tremain but did not indict him. Tremain did not return phone calls Friday.

The grand jury said it found evidence that Agner and McAdams destroyed police department time cards, and that Johnson and Hedrick cut locks on a police evidence trailer.

It also found Agner and Hedrick intimidated business owners who posted signs in their windows supporting the five police officers who complained about the chief.

"It was intended to frighten me into pulling that sign down," said Doris Smith, the owner of Vision Photo on U.S. 50.

Smith said Hedrick came into her shop in uniform and told her the bright pink-and-blue sign was an insult to him and to the department. The sign read, "We support the sound of integrity" and featured a large whistle.It remains in her store window.

"The fact that a grand jury of other residents feels it was intimidating is very gratifying and vindicating to me," Smith said.

The other counts in the indictment accuse Agner and Johnson of working other jobs while on duty and taking holiday and overtime pay they did not earn.

Of the four, only Hedrick remains on the force. Both Agner and Johnson retired and earn disability. McAdams transferred to the water department several months ago after he was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of battery. He was also indicted on an unrelated charge of assaulting a woman during an arrest four years ago.

None of four would comment Friday. But Agner's mother, Mary, said the charges are unfair.

"It's all blown out of proportion," the 75-year-old Lawrenceburg resident said.

"Evidently whoever gave him permission to do the things he did is not backing him up."

Mary Agner said the accusations are deeply disturbing.

"I've turned it all over to the Lord. I have never hurt like this before," she said. "I didn't raise my children to be a thief."

Mel Wilhelm, the special prosecutor in the case, said the investigation did not end with the indictments: "There are some other things that are still being investigated. It may end up as nothing, or we may have to go back" to the grand jury.

Wilhelm said another agency is involved in the investigation, but he would not comment on the nature of the probe and would not say whether it was a federal or state agency.

The five whistleblower police officers - Mike Lanning, Tom Cochran, Bill Hoffman, Brian Miller and Doug Taylor - came forward with allegations against the chief and others during a City Council meeting in March 2002.

Theressa Holland, the officers' lawyer, said they alleged:

• Agner and Johnson took unauthorized payments from a crane company for escorting oversized loads through town.

• Agner ordered the destruction of timecards after officers claimed thousands of dollars in overtime.

• Johnson and Hedrick broke into an evidence locker.

• Some officers solicited money for a department pistol team that didn't exist and that the money allegedly paid for $1,000- $1,200 hobby pistols.

• Unqualified persons were made reserve officers without background checks.

Holland, who has also filed a federal lawsuit claiming the officers have been subjected to harassment and retaliation since coming forward, said she is not surprised by the grand jury findings.

"My clients are very pleased and feel vindicated," she said. "They are pleased that their courage in coming forward was honored."

Grace Case, the Lawrenceburg clerk-treasurer, has been a longtime supporter of the officers and testified before the grand jury on Tuesday.

"Those guys were doing what was right," she said.

"This is the first time justice has seen the light of day in this town in a long time."

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