INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WXIN) — An Indiana State Police investigation abruptly ended shortly after a brief 911 call on Jan. 17 from a home in Lawrence.
The caller was Jason Eric Bertram. He would die at IU Methodist Hospital.
His obituary says he was 52 years old.
It does not mention how Bertram died or that at the time of his death he was wanted on eight criminal charges. The most serious of the offenses were two counts of sexual misconduct.
All the alleged crimes took place in the offices of Henry County Community Corrections. The alleged victims were men completing sentences and required to visit Henry County Community Corrections. Bertram worked for the county agency for 12 years.
When informed of the state police investigation on Jan. 7, 2022, the Community Corrections Advisory Board fired Bertram. At the time of his dismissal, Bertram was deputy director of the unit.
As newsworthy events go, a scandal involving a corrections agency official and allegations of sexual misconduct would seem to merit at least some acknowledgment by law enforcement, or the agencies involved.
But there was none.
No press release or public announcement from the Indiana State Police, Henry County Prosecutor, Henry County Community Corrections or the Indiana Department of Corrections (which provides grants to counties for Community Corrections programs).
All of them knew of the Bertram investigation. None of them reached out to the public or news organizations.
The only person seemingly interested in talking about the investigation was Samuel Shipley, one of the alleged victims.
“Life’s a lesson. Sometimes you gotta go with it.”
At the time of our interview, Samuel Shipley was in awaiting trial on a drug charge in the Henry County Jail. The newer jail also has newer features including Inmate Sales, a platform that provides online video visits. This is how Nexstar’s WXIN was able to interview Shipley.
It was 2018 when Shipley said he first met Bertram. Shipley was sentenced to house arrest and electronic monitoring for a probation violation.
Shipley needed to report to Henry County Community Corrections to have an ankle monitor strapped on. People serving these sentences are required to pay for it. For Shipley, he was told to bring $350.
When he arrived, Shipley had two problems. He was short on cash, with just over $300 on him. There was also the matter of a mandatory drug test.
“I knew I was going to fail it. At the time I had an incredibly bad cocaine habit. I had just done cocaine before I walked in there,” said Shipley.
Shipley did not try to talk his way out of the drug test, even though a negative result could lead to jail time.
After meeting Bertram in his office, the two walked to a room down the hall for the test. Part of Bertram’s responsibility is to watch a urine sample being provided to make sure it’s authentic.
Shipley urinated in the sample cup and handed it to Bertram who said, “You ever think about being in porn?”
Back in his office, Shipley said Bertram threw the urine sample in a trash can next to his desk and said, “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m kinda the boss.”
Then, Shipley said Bertram made a request, “Let me see your d***.”
Bertram repeated, ‘Let me see your d***, one time.”
Shipley said he didn’t know what to do, but also knew not complying with Bertram could land him behind bars.
“So, I’m afraid I did,” said Shipley.
Shipley told the same story to a state police detective. He also wrote letters and emails to the local newspaper in New Castle.
“I’ve gotten lots of letters from inmates,” said Travis Weik.
‘Jail Mail’ flows into lots of newsrooms around the country. Much of it is hand-written appeals claiming bad treatment while incarcerated, the deficient performance of a defense attorney resulting in a conviction or alleged prosecutorial misconduct.
The communication from Shipley was different from the usual to Weik.
“It started off about his situation in jail and then, in the course of those emails, mentioned this other stuff with Community Corrections and that’s when I started looking into that. It didn’t sound right,” said Weik.
In one form or another, New Castle’s Courier-Times has been around for 185 years. Weik’s been with the paper for nine years, the last five as managing editor.
The staff is small, just eight people and Weik does reporting as well. Over time, he’s learned where to look for records and public documents. This time, he kept hitting dead ends.
Weik explained, “There were no court cases. There were no publicly accessible warrants or anything like that. So, my response was this is a rumor.”
But he continued looking and asking questions. Finally, Weik called Henry County Prosecutor Michael Mahoney asking, “I’m not seeing anything, is there a chance that maybe there are warrants or a case that for some reason I can’t see?”
VICTIMS #1, #2, #3, AND #4
Mahoney provided the probable cause affidavit prepared by state police Detective David Preston.
The Henry County Prosecutor explained to Weik, and later to Nexstar’s WXIN, that once Bertram was dead the charges against him were dismissed eliminating any court record of the criminal charges.
The affidavit detailed the claims of four alleged victims. The names have been redacted and replaced with Victim #1, #2, #3, and #4. Nexstar’s WXIN has confirmed Samuel Shipley is one of the four.
All four were men assigned to serve at least a portion of their sentences with Henry County Community Service. All the alleged crimes took place in Bertram’s office.
The other alleged victims tell stories like Shipley’s account. One said he allowed Bertram to fondle him in exchange for $40. Another said in exchange for a promise to waive court fees and community service, he exposed his penis for Bertram to see. Yet another claims he allowed Bertram to perform oral sex on him, fearing if he did not comply, he’d be sent to prison.
The investigation uncovered cell phone pictures and audio recordings corroborating the stories of two of the victims.
Until now, the only news story about the Bertram investigation was published by the Courier-Times in February. The paper’s website has a paywall limiting who’d see it.
The story has no quotes from any official from the agencies that knew about the investigation.
“Nobody’s talking about it. Nobody. It’s disappointing,” said Weik.
“A PERSONNEL MATTER”
When Nexstar’s WXIN started posing questions to agencies within Henry County Government about the Bertram investigation, we were regularly referred to County Attorney Joel Harvey.
Harvey did supply some information about Bertram’s employment history.
At the time of his termination, Bertram’s salary was just short of $46,000 a year. He’d worked for Henry County Community Corrections from Jan. 5, 2010, until Jan. 7, 2022.
Harvey also wrote, “It was discovered that Mr. Bertram had not properly accounted for funds received from persons under supervision.”
To ask follow-up questions, Nexstar’s WXIN went to a recent Henry County Commissioners meeting.
We approached Harvey when the meeting ended, who said questions needed to be submitted by email.
Asked whether the commissioners would talk instead, Harvey responded, “I prefer they not frankly. My recommendation would be not to have any comment on it.”
When Nexstar’s WXIN asked why he didn’t want commissioners talking about the Bertram investigation, Harvey said, “It’s a personnel matter.”
The following day, Harvey clarified slightly by email writing, “It is believed that an investigation was conducted regarding the accounting of funds received by Mr. Bertram.”
Our reply was another question, “Was there also an effort to determine if others passing through Henry County Community Corrections had similar experiences at the hands of Jason Bertram?”
To that, there’s been no response at the time this story was posted.
The dates identified for the crimes outlines in the probable cause affidavit against Jason Bertram range from one alleged incident in January 2018 to three in 2021 from June to December.
The last alleged incident was just a month before Bertram was fired after 12 years on the job.
Could there be more unidentified Bertram victims?
“It could also just be the tip of the iceberg,” said Virginia Commonwealth University Associate Professor Christine Mancini.
Mancini has studied sexual abuse in institutional settings. At our request, she reviewed the criminal affidavit.
“I was struck by the pattern of behavior in that report,” said Mancini, “This someone who is able to perpetrate these crimes in a way that was private.”
Through his job, Bertram had authority over a vulnerable group of people in jeopardy of imprisonment if they failed to obey guidelines, or Bertram.
Mancini said she was surprised “four victims came forward given some of the stigma and the shame, particularly when men are victims.”
On the big question of the potential for more Bertram victims, Mancini responded, “I would say it’s likely there are other individuals.”
Technically, no criminal investigation is permanently closed. There always exists the possibility a case could be activated should new evidence or witnesses come forward.
But when Bertram took his life, the investigation effectively ended.
So far, there has been no visible outreach by any of the law enforcement agencies involved to find others who may have been coerced by Bertram to do things they did not want to do.
The Indiana State Police investigation of Bertram was headquartered out of District 51 in Pendleton. If there are others who were victimized by Bertram and wish to report it, the number there is (800) 527-4752.