GARRETT, Ind. (WANE) — It began with a discrepancy between what appeared on body camera footage and facts presented in a criminal investigation. That was around 2020, Garrett Mayor Todd Fiandt recalled.
That discrepancy led to a shake-up in the leadership of the Garrett Police Department, and three years later, the investigation of the department has continued with the Indiana State Police being called in by DeKalb County Prosecutor Neal Blythe.
As of Oct. 13, Garrett police officers are no longer allowed to conduct criminal investigations, according to a letter from Blythe sent to Fiandt, Garrett Police Chief Gerald Kline and municipal attorney Darrick Brinkerhoff. Kline has been the police chief for under a year and a half, Fiandt said Tuesday during a sit-down interview in his office.
“I am extremely concerned about the safety of the citizens of Garrett as we wait for the full state police investigation to be completed,” Blythe wrote.
Fiandt said Garrett officers are still allowed to issue traffic citations and things of that nature, but any call that requires a criminal investigation will have to be turned over to the Indiana State Police, the Auburn Police Department or the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department.
In his letter, Blythe said he had reached out to the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and “decided our office will not be filing any new criminal case that is investigated by any member of the Garrett Police Department.”
Nexstar’s WANE reached out to Blythe and visited the Garrett police department with no luck getting responses.
The Indiana State Police referred Nexstar’s WANE to those two departments.
The mayor, however, shed light on the problems. The officer in question was “giglio’d,” a reference to a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case that law enforcement must not hide evidence, referred to as exculpatory, even if it’s favorable to the suspect.
“Currently, there’s been an ongoing thing with one particular officer,” Fiandt said. “I had put him on desk duty for a while. As time passed, we lost a few officers and he got back on the road and he’s not allowed to do any criminal cases.”
“Then recently, some things were sent to the court and it looked as if he was involved in some criminal cases and the prosecuting attorney, I guess, had had enough and told us that he was going to come in and take material off of our server – that would be video – and in the meantime, during this investigation, we are not allowed to do any criminal investigations,” Fiandt said, elaborating somewhat on the problems, without naming the officer.
This kind of transparency is rare in police departments, David Carter, professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, said.
“It’s very rare that I’ve seen anywhere in the country,” Carter told Nexstar’s WANE Tuesday. “It’s unusual. I can’t think of another one outside of that, unless there’s an officer involved shooting.”
Carter said it was “almost what would be an internal affairs investigation.”
Fiandt said he could see the prosecutor’s point; however, it upsets him somewhat.
“He’s kind of saying our whole department is not good and I have a hard time with that,” Fiandt explained.
With the departmental problems, officers have quit recently and switched to other departments such as Warsaw, Columbia City, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Department and Fort Wayne.
“I don’t think our department is that bad,” Fiandt said. “We do have some internal troubles we’ll be working on.”
The department, fully staffed at 14, only has nine officers currently. That means some officers are working on their own on the slower shifts, “which isn’t such a good thing,” Fiandt said.
Firing the police officer is something Fiandt considered, but he said it is a lengthy process that would probably result in a lawsuit.
“I just didn’t want to drag everybody through the mud. I put him on desk duty hoping that he would quit and obviously that didn’t happen,” Fiandt said. Now his role is basically “a greeter,” at the Garrett Police Department, although no one answered the buzzer Tuesday and there were a number of Garrett police cars parked behind the station. The officer has been on the force for at least nine years and is around 40, he added.
“I don’t want to be a micro manager,” Fiandt said. “I rely on my chief. He brings me the reports. I have to put my trust in my chief. That’s why I don’t know all of it because I don’t want to be a micro manager.”
On the other hand, Fiandt believes the internal workings of the department are “something I think people should know. The policemen we have left right now, they’re all really good policemen.”
During exit interviews, leaving officers have told him it’s the “internal problems” the department is having that have pushed them out.
“We hope to get to the bottom of that soon,” Fiandt said. “The only thing to do is sit and wait until the ISP finishes the investigation.”