Report: Commander ineffective due to criminal record

2013-10-04T22:00:00Z 2013-10-05T15:18:05Z Report: Commander ineffective due to criminal recordMarc Chase, (219) 662-5330
October 04, 2013 10:00 pm  • 

GARY | The promotion of a once-convicted felon to the rank of Gary police special operations commander illustrates an example of what's plaguing the department, a state-issued evaluation concludes.

The report, issued Thursday by the Indiana State Police, concluded that a pattern of political favoritism and commanders lacking the confidence of police rank and file is affecting operations at the beleaguered Steel City police department.

The report makes a specific recommendation to remove from command the department's special operations commander, who supervises the SWAT team.

Though the report doesn't specifically name him, police veteran Sean Jones was promoted to that position under the administration of current Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.

Jones was convicted of felony attempted trafficking with an inmate following a 1993 arrest. During that year, Jones was working as a corrections officer at the Indiana State Prison, LaPorte County court records show.

After receiving a tip from an inmate, police observed Jones accepting marijuana and a $150 payment in a hotel parking lot, LaPorte County court records state. Police determined Jones had agreed to deliver the drugs to an inmate at the prison in exchange for the cash payment, according to court documents.

Jones eventually pleaded guilty to the trafficking charge, a felony under Indiana law, court records show.

But in 2000, Jones received a pardon in the conviction from then-Gov. Frank O'Bannon, court records show. A pardon does not erase a conviction but serves as an official act of forgiveness.

In 2009 and 2010, Freeman-Wilson represented Jones as his attorney in an attempt to expunge the arrest record in LaPorte County Superior Court, court records reveal. Expunging a record means it is sealed or wiped out.

The court denied the expungement after Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller opposed the move.

An earlier draft of the Indiana State Police report issued Thursday concluded officers lacked faith in Jones because of the past conviction. The final report recommends removing the SWAT commander from the post.

Neither Jones nor other Gary officials returned calls placed by The Times Friday seeking comment.

In a prepared statement issued Friday, Freeman-Wilson said city officials are reviewing the findings of the state police-issued special assessment of perceived problems with the Gary Police Department.

In the statement, Freeman-Wilson thanked the Indiana State Police and Gov. Mike Pence for spearheading the assessment, which involved interviews with more than 40 police officers.

The 13-page report issued Thursday is at times scathing, citing a lack of respect for authority and protocol within the department, poor use of officer resources and a lack of faith of officers in the command staff.

In a letter accompanying the report, Pence pledged state police-led training for Gary police at no cost to the city, help in processing evidence and a technological review and future recommendations on the department's information technology systems.

"We will review all external input and offers to assist as we move forward to access the help needed and make the changes that we deem appropriate," Freeman-Wilson said in a written statement. "No further comment will be issued until officials have had the opportunity to review the findings and discuss next steps."

Earlier this year, Gary had requested help from Pence in the form of state police troopers to combat spikes in violent crime.

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