CROWN POINT — A 19-year-old woman is accused of helping her boyfriend and his two friends break into her family's home in Hammond, where the burglars allegedly raped the woman's stepsister, authorities said. The mother of the victim said she witnessed the sexual assault on a live camera feed, court records state.
Alexis M. Lietz was charged Wednesday in Lake Criminal Court with burglary with a deadly weapon and armed robbery on allegations she conspired with her boyfriend, Elias J. Costello, and two accomplices, Nathaniel J. Asbury and a 16-year-old boy, to rob her parents' home.
Asbury, 21, and the juvenile allegedly raped Lietz's 19-year-old stepsister at gunpoint during the burglary. Costello, 18, is accused of holding down the woman and groping her during the assault.
Hammond police were dispatched at 9:48 a.m. Monday to a residence in the 3000 block of Crane Place after receiving reports of a home invasion, court records state.
Officers surrounded the house and found Lietz sitting in a vehicle. Lietz's stepsister came running from the home followed by Asbury, who was arrested a short distance from the scene after hopping a neighbor's fence.
The juvenile fled the home and was found by a K-9 officer hiding in a neighbor's yard, police said. They found Costello cowering under blankets in the home's basement.
The female victim told officers she was asleep on the living room couch when she heard someone trying to open the door, police said. She said she assumed it was her stepsister, so she went back to sleep. She said she was then awoken by men wearing gloves and ski masks, one of whom, armed with a shotgun, ordered her to lay face down on the couch, records state.
She said the men ransacked the house, and the man holding the shotgun ordered her to remove her clothing. She said two of the burglars then raped her, records state.
The victim's mother first reported the burglary. She told detectives her son called and said someone tried breaking down his bedroom door. She said she looked at a live camera feed she had installed in her living room and witnessed the burglars sexually assaulting her daughter, records state.
The juvenile declined to provide a statement to police, but the other defendants confessed to their roles in the burglary and sexual assault, records state.
Lietz said she drew out a map of the home, which detailed the location of cameras, TVs, jewelry and money. She said she wanted the money to help get custody of her child, records state.
Asbury is charged with two counts of rape, burglary, armed robbery, criminal confinement, intimidation, pointing a firearm and resisting law enforcement.
Costello is charged with rape, burglary, armed robbery, criminal confinement and sexual battery.
Hammond police Lt. Steven Kellogg said Wednesday the 16-year-old boy faces charges in Lake County Juvenile Court.
Lietz, Asbury and Costello are each jailed on $125,000 surety bonds, court records state.
The former defensive coordinator for Lowell High School's football team, who abruptly resigned as head coach of Kankakee Valley last month before coaching a single game, deposited hundreds of dollars worth of donations meant for Lowell High School into his bank account, police said.
Lowell Police Department investigators found that Derek Thompson, 41, of DeMotte, deposited six fundraising checks totaling $875 meant for Lowell High into his personal account, according to a probable cause affidavit. Police said the donations from NIPSCO; Hulsey Electric LLC; Style-Craft INC; Mason Corp.; Health and Hospital Corp.; and Health and Hospital Corp. of Marion County, each for either $150 or $125, were made out to Lowell High School or "Lowell High School C/O Derek Thompson."
Thompson, a former college football player who also coached football for Lowell Middle School, Lake Central and Merillville high schools, was arrested last week on a charge of deception.
He was investigated after NIPSCO pledged $150 to the Lowell High School Golf Outing that took place in June. The school had not yet received the check within the promised 10 to 12 business days, and school officials followed up with the Merrillville-based utility in May. NIPSCO checked its records and found the check had been sent and cashed with "with a handwritten signature belonging to Lowell High School Teacher Derek Thompson," according to the affidavit.
At the time, Thompson already had accepted the head coaching job at Kankakee Valley after helping lead Lowell to the Class 4A state championship game in November, but was finishing out the school year as a teacher in Lowell.
Lowell High School's bank accounts with First Midwest Bank showed no record of a $150 deposit of a check from NIPSCO, but the bank did have a record of Thompson depositing the check into his personal account at an ATM in April, according to the affidavit. A Lowell Police Department detective subpoenaed Thompson's bank records.
Thompson called the detective on May 30, saying "he had 'made a mistake' and accidentally deposited a check into his account that he was not supposed to," according to the affidavit.
"When asked why the check was deposited into his account, Derek Thompson stated, 'Basically what had happened is I had other checks coming through my name, like, and had my name my address, this got caught in the pile,'" the affidavit said. "Thompson stated the other checks were 'personal checks' and checks for another school golf outing that he is 'dealing with as well.' Derek Thompson stated when he receives donated checks for school events, he is suppose to 'take it to the treasurer.'"
He told police, "It was the only time I done it," but he also said he paid back funds owed to Kankakee Valley High School, accidentally using money owed to Lowell High School, according to the affidavit.
While reviewing Thompson's bank records, police found five additional checks from spring and summer 2017 meant for Lowell High School that he deposited into his personal account, the affidavit stated.
Thompson told The Times on Tuesday in a phone interview his actions were done on behalf of the golf outing and "for the betterment of our kids."
He said he has paid back the $150 check from NIPSCO and retained legal counsel. He declined to say anything more about the allegations.
Thompson served as defensive coordinator for the Lowell Red Devils from 2010 until January, when he took the head coaching job at Kankakee Valley, which he abruptly resigned from in June.
CROWN POINT — A 25-year-old man allegedly explained away his child porn collection by telling his girlfriend he was working undercover, according to recently filed court records.
Sean M. Waffird was charged Thursday in Lake Criminal Court with seven counts of child exploitation and two counts of possession of child pornography.
Indiana State Police began an investigation in September after learning several electronic devices were distributing suspected child pornography in Cedar Lake, court records state.
Detectives determined over a period of four days in September the devices distributed numerous images and videos depicting prepubescent girls engaging in sexual acts.
Some of the videos appeared to be created by a Russian modeling agency previously known to produce child pornography for “private collectors,” records state. One of the girls depicted engaging in a sexual act had previously been identified by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as a known child abuse victim.
The computer devices were linked through internet service provider records to a residence in the 7100 block of West 127th Place in Cedar Lake, records state. Officers executed a search warrant at the home Tuesday and seized cell phones, a laptop and television streaming devices.
Waffird requested an attorney after he was questioned about whether he had viewed pictures of children on the internet, records state.
Waffird's girlfriend told detectives sometime in 2017 she found an email sent to Waffird's email account containing child pornography. She said she confronted Waffird about it, and he claimed he was “working undercover to get probation time cuts,” records state. The girlfriend said Waffird's mother then called her and said her son's possession of child pornography was related to “undercover work.”
Detectives discovered eight videos and three photographs of suspected child pornography on a cell phone found inside the home. The Indiana Department of Child and Family Services was contacted regarding a minor residing in the home, records state.
Waffird was being held Thursday on a $100,000 surety bond at Lake County Jail, records state. It was not immediately clear who was representing him in the case.
HAMMOND — The family of a 15-year-old boy who was arrested Wednesday night at Festival of the Lakes is alleging several officers involved used excessive force by slamming the teen to the ground and placing their knees on his back to restrain him.
A video circulating on social media with the hashtag #JusticeForDominic starts moments after officers with the Hammond Police Department bring the boy — Dominic Garibay — to the ground in an attempt to restrain him.
“As soon as I see two grown officers with their knees in Dominic’s back, I immediately started to scream, 'That’s my son!’” Elizabeth Momontejano, of Hammond, told The Times.
'We're always filming'
Hammond police Lt. Steven Kellogg, spokesman for the Police Department, said he plans to release body camera footage of the entire incident, including the events that led to the teen's arrest. The footage, contrary to the family’s claims, shows there was “definitely no police assault,” Kellogg said.
He said several of Hammond’s own officers were working security at the festival that night. The department has been made aware of the video circulating online, he said.
Late Thursday night the Hammond Police Department released the following statement:
"On July 18th, at approximately 11:05 pm, officers working a local festival were breaking up a violent fist fight between two teenage girls. As officers were attempting to secure the area around the fight and affect the arrest of the juveniles, another juvenile male, age 15, attempted to get through the area being blocked off by officers. One officer, told the young man three times to step back away from the area. In an attempt to block access to the fight, the officer extended his arm to keep back the young man attempting to get through the line. The young man slapped away the arm of the officer protecting the scene.
At this point, the officer made the decision to arrest the juvenile for disorderly conduct. The officer attempted to affect the arrest of the male and the male began to yell and resist arrest. The officers on scene took the male to the ground and were able to secure the male in handcuffs. The male continued to resist and yell profanities throughout the encounter. An officer attempted to walk the male to a secure area when he again began to resist arrest and was taken to the ground once more until a transport vehicle could be brought closer to the area.
A thorough investigation is underway to ascertain the facts of the situation and appropriate action will be taken. After all body camera footage has been reviewed, and we know more with certainty and confidence, we will share with you whatever it is we are able to at that time."
“We know that everyone’s always filming. We’re always filming with our body camera footage,” Kellogg said.
Under state law, an individual cannot touch a law enforcement officer, Kellogg said, so the officer attempted to make an arrest.
The body camera footage “clearly shows our officers attempting to de-escalate the situation, telling him multiple times to stop resisting,” Kellogg added, noting the teen continued to resist and shout expletives at the officers.
Dispute over what led to arrest
The boy’s mother said Garibay and his older brother planned to meet up with family at an agreed-upon spot near the main entrance.
They were recording the fight between two women, whom neither party knew, when they realized they had passed the meetup spot, so they decided to leave the crowd and turn around.
“When Dominic turned around, that’s when the cop was right there in his face. He was scared, so he tried to walk around the officer, and the officer grabbed him by his shirt, like he was manhandling him,” Momontejano said. “Dominic was asking, 'What did I do? What did I do?”
Momontejano said the officer then placed her son in a chokehold as other officers arrived on scene, at which point her son is “slammed to the ground on the concrete.”
Kellogg said the officers placed — not slammed — the boy to the ground in order to restrain him. The body cam footage will show the boy was not leaving the crowd, but walking toward the crowd when he touches the officers, Kellogg said.
'Calm down, kid'
A video posted by family to social media paints a chaotic scene just outside the Festival of the Lakes’ gates.
At one point, the teen is squirming on the ground as two officers attempt to restrain him, including one officer who placed his forearm on the teen's upper back and neck area to hold him down. Another officer steps in and places his knees on the boy’s back. A third officer places a knee on his legs, according to the footage.
VIDEO: Viewer discretion advised due to foul language.
“Get your knees off his back! Carl, record this (expletive)!” Momontejano is heard saying in the video.
Placing knees on a suspect's back is basic protocol to keep him or her from rolling around and getting away, and they were not using their full body weight, Kellogg said.
In the background, a person can be heard saying, “Hey, kid. Your mom’s right here. Please, listen to the cops, kid. Please. Calm down, kid. Calm down.”
"How do you calm down when you feel like you're being choked? He was literally crying for help," his mother said. "They were telling me they were going to lock me up. They were hostile and completely irate. Everyone was rude. They were not professional."
At one point in the video, Garibay yells, “He’s breaking my ribs!”
Kellogg said there's nothing contained in the videos indicating the officers' actions seriously injured the teen, adding that Garibay would not have been able to be transported to the Lake County Juvenile Detention Center unless he was medically cleared.
Momontejano said her son since has been released from custody.
It's unclear if the boy will face formal charges of disorderly conduct or resisting arrest.
Kellogg said the department is continuing to review the use of force in this incident by reviewing evidence and video footage.
“I’ve seen nothing in the videos that we’ve watched so far today that would lead me to believe that any actions that these officers took during this arrest were anything other than what they were trained to do,” Kellogg said.
Garibay suffered some facial injuries in the incident, according to photos posted online.
"It happens all the time. It happens to us, too,” Kellogg said Thursday. “I’m sure my officers are marked up from having to take him down. That’s never a goal of ours, but it sometimes happens when you fight the police.”
Kellogg said the department's body cam footage will be released in the near future.
CROWN POINT — A group's return trip home from their so-called "weedcation" in Colorado was cut short with a late-night sobriety checkpoint in Lake County that turned up 152 grams of pot under the hood.
The four men charged include Christopher Binion, 38, of Maywood, Illinois; Rayford John Brunner Jr., 46, of Hobart; Oneille Folsom, 37, of Oak Park, Illinois and Fabian Tyus, 29, of Chicago, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Thursday in Lake Criminal Court.
A Hobart police detective and others were working a sobriety checkpoint the night of June 30 when the group's rental vehicle, a Dodge Journey with Kentucky plates, was flagged due to the strong odor of raw marijuana coming from the vehicle, the affidavit stated.
When asked about the odor, Binion allegedly admitted to having a small baggy of weed in the center console and smoking marijuana earlier, the report states.
He then told officers they were all returning from a trip to Las Vegas, but fumbled when he was asked to come up with the name of the hotel or place they stayed while visiting, the affidavit states.
A search of the vehicle discovered four silver thermos containers under the hood between the car engine and the fuse panel packed with pot, according to records.
Numerous bags of pot and drug paraphernalia, including THC-infused gummy bears, were also found in the car.
In an interview at the station, Binion allegedly admitted the four of them were returning home from a "weedcation" from Colorado where they visisted several dispensaries and purchased marijuana in large quantities.
Binion's uncle, Brunner, told police they all set off for Colorado on June 26 to do "what anyone else did in Colorado ... hit up the dispensaries," the affidavit states.
One of the dispensaries was called the "Mile High Club," Binion allegedly told police.
Folsom allegedly told police expected he wouldn't have to buy more marijuana for a while with the amount they purchased, and that he saved money in buying the drugs in Colorado.
"Oneille stated it cost about $175 where it would cost him about $300 dollars here," the affidavit says.
Tyus told police he spent about $700 for everything in two of the canisters, further telling police he wanted the two cans to be his because he "wanted to make sure (he) got his (expletive)."
The four friends have each been charged with marijuana dealing, possession of a controlled substance and marijuana possession.
PORTER — A Valparaiso woman is facing charges of disorderly conduct and resisting law enforcement after she allegedly was unable to pay her tab at a bar early Friday morning.
According to a police report, police were sent to Whistle Stop Bar, 206 Lincoln St., just before 3 a.m. on a report that a customer, Emily Smith, 33, had run up a tab of $17 and was unable to pay. Smith also allegedly threw a $38 bottle of Jim Beam whiskey from behind the bar.
When police arrived, Smith was allegedly shouting obscenities at the bartender and refused to step outside when asked by police. She also yelled obscenities at police.
Smith was transported to Porter County Jail where she allegedly continued to be confrontational with jail officers. The bar declined to press charges for the delinquent tab and broken bottle of whiskey.
VALPARAISO — A 24-year-old Gary woman is accused of molesting one of her female martial arts students beginning when the girl was 13, according to court records.
Malary Jones is charged with a felony count each of child molesting and sexual misconduct with a minor.
"(The girl) advised that she did not want to have sex with Jones, but did not want to be rude," according to charging documents. "(The girl) advised that she would make excuses not to have sex with Jones, however Jones would become angry when she did."
The allegations came to light in April when the girl revealed them to a school counselor, police said. Jones was a karate/taekwondo instructor at a studio in Portage and the girl was a student when the reported molestation began in July 2016.
Jones was 22 and the girl was 13 when the incidents began, police said.
The girl reportedly told police she saw Jones kissing a 14-year-old and then Jones told her she liked the girl a week later.
The molestation took place over the next year and three months, police said.
The girl reportedly told police she and Jones had exchanged nude photographs and that she had a video of the two in bed.
"(The girl) advised that since breaking up with Jones, the thought of her in a relationship with Jones started to really 'bug' her," according to the charging documents.
Police said Jones admitted in April to sexual incidents with the girl about 13 times over a period of a year, including at least twice when the girl was 13.
The case has been assigned to Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford.
CROWN POINT — A 34-year-old man is accused of raping his girlfriend at gunpoint and threatening to kill her children Tuesday in a Cedar Lake motel.
Cedar Lake police were dispatched Tuesday to Goodfellas bar and grill, 1200 W. 129th Ave. in Cedar Lake, after receiving reports of a domestic disturbance, court records state. Officers learned from dispatch a man drove off in a woman's vehicle after stealing her firearm and cell phone.
A woman at the bar told officers her sometimes boyfriend, Michael J. Kinsey, had left after threatening to kill her children.
She said she met Kinsey earlier at the Economy Inn, 12551 Wicker Ave., to get her firearm back from him. She said they had consensual sex, but Kinsey became angry afterward and put the gun to her head, telling her he was going to “take her soul” by killing her family and kids first, records state.
She said Kinsey then anally raped her with the gun to her head. She suggested they go to Goodfellas to talk, though she told officers she secretly wanted to go to a public place so she could notify authorities — Kinsey had taken her phone, she said.
She said at the restaurant she asked a bartender for help and followed her to the bathroom, records state. Someone from the bar then called 911. Bouncers approached Kinsey, so he left the bar, taking the woman's phone and keys, records state.
Kinsey was arrested at a nearby gas station, records state. The woman was transported to St. Anthony's Hospital for a sexual assault examination.
Kinsey is charged in Lake Criminal Court with rape, two counts criminal confinement, intimidation, strangulation, pointing a firearm, theft of a firearm, auto theft and several misdemeanors.
Kinsey, of Lake Village, was previously convicted in 2009 of criminal recklessness, a felony. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with 12 months suspended for probation. He is currently charged with committing two misdemeanor batteries and operating while intoxicated in unrelated incidents, records state.
Kinsey was afforded an $100,000 surety bond at an initial hearing Friday. He is scheduled to make a formal court appearance June 27.
VALPARAISO — Police are investigating four incidents of vandalism overnight, including homophobic, misogynistic terms spray-painted across the entire length of the side of a home in the 600 block of Walnut Street.
In addition to offensive terms, vandals also painted pictures of male genitalia.
The home is occupied by renters who were out of town during the incident, Valparaiso police Sgt. Mike Grennes said.
It was one of four vandalism incidents reported to police Monday morning. Others included a car and a commercial building and apartment building.
The graffiti in the other three incidents was not as graphic, Grennes said.
The vandalism led to multiple postings of outrage on the Central Neighborhood Association Facebook page Monday morning and offers to help clean up the graffiti.
"We haven't heard much of this happening in our neighborhood," said Bill Durnell, president of the neighborhood association. "I have heard it happening elsewhere in Valparaiso including anti-gay and anti-diversity graffiti."
Durnell said his mother-in-law's white car also was tagged with an offensive word while it was parked overnight at St. Andrew's Square. The word was written in black spray-paint across the car's passenger side. There was other spray-painting on the windshield, but Durnell said he couldn't decipher what was written.
"We want to be safe, inclusive of all our neighbors, whether they rent or own," Durnell said.
The owner of the home, MJF Rentals, responded quickly to the home. An employee worked on painting over the graffiti by late Monday morning.
Mark Forszt, owner of the home, said the people who rent the house are a married couple and have lived in the home for nine years.
"It's a shame, and things like this shouldn't happen in Valpo," Forszt said.
Grennes said police are continuing to investigate the incidents. He said they are considered acts of criminal mischief. If it is found that the family living in the home was targeted with the particular specific remarks, other charges could be considered. Grennes said they have not been able to reach the residents as of Monday afternoon.
Grennes would like anyone who saw anything or knows anything of the incidents to contact Valparaiso police at 219-462-2135 or text information to Tip411 (847-411). Place the key word "Valpo" in the message field prior to sending the information.
VALPARAISO — A 32-year-old Valparaiso man was taken into custody Wednesday morning after his father was found holding him down in the roadway along North Calumet Avenue.
The father of Robert Rohweder told police his son had left the work release program at the Kimbrough Center in Lake County the day before without permission, and he feared his son was back on heroin.
A passing motorist reported being flagged down by the man's father, who asked that a 911 call be placed.
Rohweder reportedly told police he became upset with his father and did not return to the center. When police discovered there was a warrant for Rohweder's arrest on a charge of escape/flight, they took him to Porter Regional Hospital to be medically cleared not knowing whether he had taken any substances.
An official with the Kimbrough Center arrived at the hospital and took the man into custody after he was medically cleared, police said.
Valparaiso was second among Northwest Indiana communities with the most per-capita overdose deaths from 2013 through 2017.
The top 10, in order, were LaPorte, Valparaiso, Crown Point, Gary, Portage, Lake Station, Michigan City, Dyer, Hobart and Griffith, according to a Times analysis that looked at municipalities with more than 10 overdoses in that span. The numbers, which are cumulative for the five-year period, include both incorporated and unincorporated areas in those communities.
Amid a national opioid overdose epidemic that kills an estimated 115 Americans a day, overdose deaths in Northwest Indiana continue to rise year after year.
While many local first responders carry naloxone and police departments have specialized overdose response units, substance abuse treatment isn't always easy to find, particularly for people without health insurance. Of those 10 communities, Crown Point, Portage, Lake Station, Dyer, Hobart and Griffith don't have treatment centers.
VALPARAISO — An attorney seeking a lower bond for a Valparaiso woman charged in connection with last week's drowning death of her 3-year-old daughter is arguing there is evidence challenging the criminal claims of neglect.
Attorney Bob Harper said there is evidence to support Tasia Perkins' claims that she took her child with her to a nearby gas station on the night of July 9 and that the girl fled when they returned to their home at the Williamsburg on the Lake apartment complex on Valparaiso's north side.
The girl, whose unresponsive body was discovered that same night in a pond near the home, was found wearing one shoe, Harper said. The other shoe was left in the car, which police should have been able to verify after seizing the vehicle, he said.
"Defendant states that when the child ran it kicked the one shoe off in the car," Harper wrote in the motion to reduce the $50,000 cash bond.
Another indication the child was in the car as claimed is that Perkins stayed in her car at the gas station and honked for service, Harper said.
Perkins also did not enter her apartment when arriving home and instead, set out immediately in search of her daughter, Tamira Billingslea. Police should know this because Perkins had to unlock the apartment door to let them in.
"That it seems at the very most the State is accusing the Defendant of bad judgement in not calling the police sooner," Harper wrote in the motion.
Perkins left the gas station at 8 p.m., according to surveillance footage. Valparaiso police said they received the report of a missing child at 9:26 p.m.
Harper also argued the child had special needs and was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and language impairment. It was determined a few months ago the girl was non-verbal and not responding when her name was called, he said.
While in daycare, the child had significant tantrums, hit other children and played with her feces, Harper said.
The child had a tendency to run away from her mother and other adults, which prompted a doctor to write a letter to the apartment complex requesting that a screen door be installed at the family's apartment, he said.
Harper also pointed out that a clerk at the gas station told police she did not see the child in the vehicle, but saw a car seat. But there was no car seat, he said, which police should know because they seized the vehicle.
A status hearing in the case is scheduled for July 30 before Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford.
Perkins has pleaded not guilty to a charge of felony neglect of a dependent. If convicted, she faces 20 to 40 years in prison.
HAMMOND — Three men were arrested Tuesday after they solicited an undercover female officer for sex during a sting operation, police said.
Bruce Ford, 65, of Hammond; Marc Novak, 62, of Lynwood; and Reynel Villalobos-Carreno, 54, of Hammond, each face a misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute, Lt. Steven Kellogg said.
Officers from several of the department's divisions conducted the operation from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesday in the 5700 block of State Line Avenue after receiving multiple complaints about prostitution in the area, he said.
Police said they will continue to work to curb prostitution in the city, seek prosecution of anyone arrested and release their names to media.
GARY — A Hammond woman, her fiance and their friend went out to celebrate the fiance's birthday Saturday and never returned, a family member said.
Heather Talley, 27, of Hammond, was found shot to death early Sunday on the city's far east side, near the Lake Station border.
Her fiance, Darius Ross, 28, of Gary, and the couple's friend Nicholas Edwards, 28, of Gary, were found shot to death hours later in the city's downtown area.
Heather Talley was a fun-loving person who made everyone smile, sister Jackquelynn Talley said.
She was a wonderful person, and often baby-sat for Jackquelynn Talley's children.
"My daughters were like her daughters," she said.
Heather Talley worked at a Highland gas station, but had taken time off recently for an emergency back surgery.
"Everyone loved her," Jackquelynn Talley said.
Heather Talley's fiance meant everything to her, she said.
"It's so sad," she said. "They were murdered. They were violently murdered. It's so sad."
Police found Talley about 4:20 a.m. Sunday after responding to the 2500 block of Central Avenue for a welfare check.
About 8 a.m. Sunday, Gary police were dispatched to the area of West Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street for reports of a suspicious vehicle.
Inside the vehicle, officers found the bodies of two men who died from gunshot wounds.
Anyone with information about the homicides is asked to call Detective Alexander Jones, of the Lake County/Gary Metro Homicide Unit, at 219-545-5442 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.
PORTAGE TOWNSHIP — A 28-year-old Portage man was arrested early Tuesday morning after he allegedly attempted to disarm a county police officer.
Jonathan P. Stone is facing felony charges of disarming a law enforcement officer, habitual traffic offender and identity deception and misdemeanor resisting law enforcement.
According to Porter County Sheriff's Department spokesperson Sgt. Jamie Erow, a county officer was stopped at a light at U.S. 6 and McCool Road around 1 a.m. when he saw a silver 2008 Chevrolet passenger car westbound on U.S. 6 turn improperly north onto McCool Road and abruptly turn into the Golo gas station at the corner.
The officer saw the man, later identified as Stone, walk quickly into the store and a woman passenger exit the car and "sprint around to the driver's seat," according to Erow.
The officer made contact with Stone as he came out of the gas station. He allegedly denied driving the car and provided an incorrect name and birth date.
After police learned his real name, they determined Stone's license status was habitual traffic offender.
When Stone was told he was under arrest, he fled north on foot. Police chased Stone and attempted to use a stun gun as he ran, but it was ineffective. Police caught up with him and brought him to the ground, but Stone continued to resist, according to police.
At that time, the officer felt Stone reach back with his right hand and grab the officer's gun on his duty belt. Another officer assisting with the arrest attempted to use a stun gun on Stone, with success, as the first officer retained his weapon in the holster. Stone was handcuffed.
Stone was medically cleared at Porter Regional Hospital and later transported to Porter County Jail.
CROWN POINT — Authorities allege a 35-year-old Dyer man attempted to purchase underage girls last year through a social media account.
George E. Ambroz was charged Thursday in Lake Criminal Court with child solicitation, possession of child pornography and obscene performance.
A Dyer police detective contacted the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in May regarding disturbing messages allegedly posted to Twitter by Ambroz, court records state.
“If I give you 300 k cash, will you sell me your 7-year-old daughter? Contact me, if so,” Ambroz allegedly wrote in one message dated July 24, 2017.
Ambroz allegedly posted several other sexually explicit messages on Twitter regarding underage girls, stating in one message, “I have sexually assaulted someone much younger than me,” records state.
On July 10, he allegedly wrote, "I work for the railroad, butcher and welder. Therefore, I have the right to be angry, drunken, drugged, violent temper and a rapist. I have the right to rape, just because I work for the railroad.”
Police visited Ambroz on July 10 at his home in the 2800 block of Edgewood Drive and questioned him about the obscene messages. He allegedly admitted he wrote the messages, but he asked why they were a problem. Ambroz then was arrested on a charge of child solicitation.
Police allege Ambroz posted a photo July 2 to Twitter of an underage girl engaging in sexual acts.
Ambroz, who is jailed on a $70,000 surety bond, made an initial court appearance Friday, court records state. Records do not indicate when he is next scheduled for court.
The previous version of this story incorrectly reported the amount George Ambroz offered for an underage girl on Twitter. The correct amount was $300,000. The Times regrets this error.
CROWN POINT — Police are investigating whether two teenagers arrested last weekend after a high-speed chase into Chicago might be responsible for a rash of vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles across Lake County.
The pursuit began just after 1:45 a.m. Saturday after Crown Point police responded to a report of four men possibly breaking into vehicles and found a stolen pickup truck abandoned in the 1200 block of Covington Court.
Officers saturated the area and noticed a small gray Toyota in the 11300 block of Delaware Street. The car matched a vehicle description associated with the four suspicious men.
The Toyota driver pulled into a driveway, and an officer stopped in the street behind him and shined a spotlight into the car, according to a police report. The Toyota driver took off through the home's front yard, sped north on Delaware, east on 109th Avenue and entered Interstate 65.
Crown Point called off the pursuit as the cars approached U.S. 30, because of building traffic and speeds approaching 120 mph. A Lake County sheriff's officer, who had positioned himself in the area to join the chase, resumed the pursuit, records show.
The Toyota driver repeatedly swerved and attempted to hit police vehicles, reached speeds of 130 mph, cut off vehicles and passed on the shoulder as the chase continued to Chicago's South Side.
The driver hit another vehicle at 71st Street and Lafayette Avenue, just off the Dan Ryan Expressway. The other vehicle's driver, a 61-year-old man, suffered a head injury, reports say.
The Toyota driver continued to 71st and Vincennes Avenue, where he was boxed in by traffic. Four occupants fled the vehicle on foot.
Lake County police chased the driver, who eventually was subdued with a Taser as he ran and fell into the grass, according to a report. Chicago police took one of the passengers into custody in the 7100 block of South Lafayette. Both were taken to hospitals.
During the chase, dispatchers advised the Toyota had been reported stolen in Hinsdale, Illinois.
A Lake County sheriff's detective was familiar with the two teens taken into custody, a report says.
Back in Crown Point, officers checked the area where the pursuit started and found two garages had been entered along with several vehicles. Several more reports of thefts from vehicles came in the next morning.
Police in Dyer, St. John and Schererville all confirmed they're investigating whether the teens might be linked to vehicle thefts and thefts from vehicles in their towns this summer.
Schererville police responded to eight thefts from vehicles in May and nine in June. One vehicle was stolen and later recovered in Chicago, Cmdr. Jeff Cook said. The thieves targeted several neighborhoods and a couple of businesses, he said.
Dyer Police Chief Dave Hein said his department is working with agencies in Illinois and has identified several different groups responsible for thefts from vehicles. Dyer police have recovered one vehicle stolen from Dyer and four from communities in Illinois as part of their investigation, he said.
Munster police responded to more than 20 thefts from vehicles and two vehicle thefts in May and June, Lt. Ed Strbjak said.
In a July 5 case, Munster police searched the area near State Line Road and Broadmoor Avenue for three people possibly breaking into vehicles. Meanwhile, Lansing police, who had received similar calls, arrested one person.
In the vast majority of cases, vehicles were left unlocked, Stbjak said.
"It's a crime of opportunity," he said. "We need people to lock their cars."
GARY — A 42-year-old man is accused of shooting his neighbors' two pet dogs with a rifle — killing one and seriously injuring another because the dogs wouldn't stop coming into his yard, court records show.
Thaddeus L. Evans, of Gary, has been charged in Lake Criminal Court with one felony count each of killing a domestic animal and attempting to kill a domestic animal, along with two counts of criminal mischief, both misdemeanors.
Police responded about 1 p.m. Tuesday to a home in the 1100 block of Maryland Street for a report of shots fired to find Quincy, a small, 12-pound Bichon Frise laying the grass with blood on her neck and right leg.
"This dog was still alert and looking around but was not moving," the affidavit states.
A second dog — a 10-pound, cream-colored Havenese dog named Apollo — died in the shooting and was located at the back of the home.
Evans exited his home at that time, hands raised, to say he was the one to call 911, the affidavit stated.
Evans allegedly yelled, "I'm tired of these damn dogs! They keep messing with me on purpose, so that's why I shot them!" the affidavit states.
Evans later told police when he saw Quincy and Apollo in his yard, he "just lost it," and claimed to have accidentally grabbed his shotgun when reaching for his pellet gun.
The injured Bichon Frise was taken by her owner to the Glen Park Animal Hospital with an estimated medical bill of $1,900.
One witness said she heard a gunshot, saw Evans running after a small white dog, Quincy, and then she saw Evans shoot the dog with a shotgun, the affidavit states.
The dogs' owner told police she had never had a conversation with Evans about her dogs being in his yard, though she had an issue with him in the past.
She told police she was at her neighbor's home a few months ago across the street doing yard work, holding a broom, when Evans yelled at her neighbor for their dogs being in his yard.
As Evans crossed the street to return home, Evans almost hit her with his vehicle, and the neighbor swung the broom at the tail gate.
Further investigation found Gary police went to Evan's home on Aug. 29, 2017 for his own dog being attacked. On April 16, Gary police were called out for a report of Evans' dogs being chained up.
On June 4 and 5, Gary police responded to the area for a report of Evans' two large dogs that kept getting loose.
PORTAGE — A Portage man is facing a misdemeanor battery charge after he allegedly caused a disturbance at a local gas station and ended up punching a fellow customer in the head.
Police were called to the Speedway gas station on U.S. 6 just before 7 p.m. Wednesday.
According to the report, a man, later identified as Jesse Haack, 36, made inappropriate advances towards an employee. When he was paying for his merchandise another employee at the register told him she didn't appreciate the way he had treated the other woman.
Haack then allegedly began cussing at the clerk, calling her obscene and racist names. The clerk, along with other customers, repeatedly asked Haack to leave, according to the report.
One customer called Haack a "piece of trash" and Haack allegedly responded by punching the man on the right side of the head, knocking off his hat and causing redness to his ear.
Haack then left and police later went to Haack's home and placed him under arrest. Haack denied hitting the man, but admitted saying racist comments to the clerk, according to the report.
PORTAGE — A 40-year-old Portage Township man was arrested Thursday afternoon after he was spotted opening and drinking from coffee creamers inside a local retail store and then attempting to enter cars in the parking lot.
Edward L. Berry is facing a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication for the incident.
According to a police report, an employee of Walmart, 6087 U.S. 6, spotted Berry standing in the cooler area drinking from the coffee creamers. He also allegedly tried to pour something into a creamer.
Berry was escorted to the front of the store where he paid for the items he drank from and was told to leave.
However, he was then spotted by the employee and other shoppers walking through the parking lot, pulling on car door handles, in an attempt to enter a vehicle.
A witness who confronted him told police Berry told her he was attempting to find his car. Witnesses also told police Berry appeared to be intoxicated.
Initially Berry told police he was driving a friend's car, but forgot where he parked it. He then told police that he didn't have a car.
GARY — Firefighters extinguished yet another suspicious blaze early Tuesday in the 2300 block of West Ridge Road, an official said.
The Gary Fire Department was dispatched at 2:30 a.m. to 2310 W. Ridge Road, where a vacant two-story building was on fire, Chief of Operations Mark Jones said.
Gary and Lake Ridge Volunteer Fire Department crews remained on scene about two and a half hours, Lake Ridge Fire Chief Mike Redd said.
The fire was the eighth reported since July 9 in the 2400 and 2300 blocks of West Ridge Road.
The fires have destroyed a vacant two-story building at 2310 W. Ridge and another vacant multiple-unit building at 2300 W. Ridge Road, Redd said.
No injuries have been reported in any of the fires, which have damaged vehicles parked at a car lot and several buildings. In one case, a mattress was set ablaze outside 2310 W. Ridge.
Arson is suspected in several cases, Jones said.
Fighting fire is always dangerous, but it's particularly difficult when arson is possible, Redd said.
"You don't know what they've done in the building in order to start the fire, or to keep the fire from being put out," he said. "It's hard to fight fires from the exterior and to put it out completely."
The rash of fires began about 1 a.m. July 9 when the Gary Fire Department was dispatched to a used car lot at 2450 W. Ridge Road and found rubbish inside a mobile trailer burning. Firefighters were on scene about 30 minutes.
About 2:30 a.m. July 9, Gary firefighters were called back to the car lot and found two trailers engulfed. Gary crews remained on scene about an hour and a half.
About 11 p.m. July 10, Gary firefighters were called to the car lot and found multiple vehicles on fire. Arson is suspected in all three fires, Jones said.
About 12:03 a.m. July 12, the Lake Ridge Fire Department was called to the car lot and found two vehicles on fire, Redd said.
At 1:55 a.m. July 12, Gary firefighters were called to 2310 W. Ridge Road for a structure fire.
At 11:18 p.m. July 12, firefighters returned for a mattress on fire in front of 2310 W. Ridge Road.
About 1:45 a.m. July 14, a fire broke out in a multiple-unit building at 2300 W. Ridge Road. The fire spread through a commercial space in the front and two apartments and damaged the roof and second floor at 2310 W. Ridge, Redd said.
The fire about 2:30 a.m. July 17 also was suspicious, Jones said.
GARY — Vandalism, looting and arson have plagued abandoned Gary public school buildings for years amid dwindling enrollment, towering debt and tax liens on properties that long-tied the hands of district officials.
Now, city and school officials hope to soon end that chapter and turn a new page as the beleaguered Gary School Community Corp. places 33 properties on the market under the crushing weight of $100 million-plus in total debt.
"We have not been a good neighbor with these abandoned properties over the last 20 years as the school fell into financial distress," said Gary Emergency Manager Peggy Hinckley, who was appointed last year to dig the cash-strapped school district out of the red.
In abandoned and boarded-up schools, homicide victims' bodies have been discovered over the last several years, including in 2015 when a 17-year-old girl was found murdered inside the former Emerson school building, 716 E. Seventh Ave.
"We had the three homicides, and we continue to have a lot of fires," Gary Council President Ron Brewer said. "It's a constant drain of our resources."
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said the Gary Fire Department has responded to six arsons in the past 12 months, including twice at Horace Mann High School and Ivanhoe Elementary, and once at Lew Wallace and Washington Carver.
"While I can't tell you how much it costs each time we respond, I can tell you that if our crews are responding to a school, and there’s another fire, that presents a challenge in the community," Freeman-Wilson said.
Over the years, many of the schools have been hit by arson, or accessed by squatters and gangs, tagged with graffiti and looted for left-behind school equipment and other valuables.
Today, many of the buildings are afflicted by broken windows, scribbled graffiti and overgrown weeds, lessening the viability of the properties over time. But officials hope bidders look at the properties' locations and potential, rather than fixating on the structures as barriers to redevelopment.
Hinckley said she understands some of the properties are more marketable than others.
Horace Mann High School on Garfield Street was hit by an arsonist in May 2017, its auditorium destroyed in the blaze. Three months later, in the city's Glen Park neighborhood, another suspicious fire was set to the former Lew Wallace High School.
'A starting point'
Brewer, Freeman-Wilson and Hinckley have expressed hope but remain cautiously optimistic as to how quickly properties can sell.
Asking prices range as low as $39,300 for undeveloped land at Mount Street and Ninth Avenue to as high as $5.85 million for Dunbar-Pulaski Middle School — a school shuttered in 2015 because of poor performance.
The hope, Hinckley said, is to sell as many properties at the best asking price based on values determined by the county assessor's office.
"We have no illusion the properties are worth this much, but it's a starting point," Hinckley said. "We know we have properties with deteriorating buildings, and that places a negative value on there. Whoever buys it would have to tear down."
Officials will factor that into any bids they receive, she said.
Hinckley said donating the properties will be a last resort after all other options are exhausted as members of the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals Board desire the district to bring down its long-term debt.
The financially troubled Gary school district last year was put under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager after trustees repeatedly failed to match the district's spending to its declining revenue and racked up more than $100 million in debt.
Crippling the district's ability to crawl out of debt has been the multiple liens on abandoned school properties. Only recently did the Internal Revenue Service approve a $320,000 settlement with the district, wiping clean more than $8 million owed to the federal government and removing the liens.
That elimination of debt and liens provides the flexibility needed to sell the more marketable properties.
Marketable to not-so-marketable
School officials first began attempting to sell buildings in 2010 when they were being squeezed by charter schools, declining enrollment, reduced tax collections and decreases in state funding, but many of the deals fell through. Even in cases where schools were sold off for a small price, buyers have done little to redevelop the eyesores.
Wirt-Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts in the Miller neighborhood held its final graduation last month as part of a move to consolidate the district's two high school buildings into one. Its high school students and programs will merge with West Side Leadership Academy.
Wirt-Emerson's location less than a mile from Gary's Lake Michigan beaches makes it a prime location "bound to be attractive" to market-rate housing developers, Hinckley said.
Freeman-Wilson said the Nobel Elementary School site also is marketable, given its proximity to Lake Michigan and the surrounding stable home values. George Washington Carver, 2535 Virginia St., is in a prime commercial location right off the Borman Expressway west of the I-65 interchange.
Gary airport officials have expressed interest in the past for the nearby shuttered Thomas A. Edison Elementary property.
The city is hoping to attract investors to the Benjamin Franklin property, listed for $1.4 million, for multiuse development, including mixed-income housing.
Freeman-Wilson said the city may be able to leverage the property as it seeks a $30 million implementation grant from HUD to improve the neighborhood and create affordable housing.
Two-stage bidding process
Official notice of the properties being open for bid appeared in local newspapers on July 2.
Under the state's takeover law, Hinckley said local taxing districts, such as universities, colleges and libraries, have first right to make a purchase offer. That 30-day window runs through July 27.
The legal notice requires Hinckley provide Freeman-Wilson's office with 30-day written notice prior to selling off any assets, and that any concerns or objections raised at that juncture should be taken into account in consultant with the mayor.
"The sooner we can move these properties along, the better," Hinckley said. "But it does not mean we just want to unload them for anybody. We want to be good neighbors in understanding the use proposed by bidders may not be compatible with the neighborhood. We have to be sensitive to that."
Hinckley said there will be some level of community input, particularly in cases in which intended use of the property is questioned.
Once the first phase is over, the bidding process will open up to the general public over a 60-day period. That period runs until Aug. 24.
Tracy Coleman, the district's attorney with Robert L. Lewis & Associates, is handling bids, Hinckley said.
Hinckley said the Bethune Early Learning Center, shuttered at the end of the 2019 school year, is listed for sale.
WHITING — For the first time in its 24-year history, Pierogi Fest has a queen to reign over the wacky salute to the city’s Eastern European heritage.
Jenny Milkowski, a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Poland, hails from Chicago, one of the most Polish areas outside Rzeczpospolita Polska (“The Commonwealth of Poland”). She will bring her broadcast talents and her popular social media program to Pierogi Fest, where she will broadcast live from 2 to 7 p.m. July 27.
And then with the Babushka Brigade Buschas serving as her court, Milkowski also will reign over the quirky 25th annual International Pierogi Fest Parade that steps off at 7 p.m. July 27, traveling down 119th Street from just east of Calumet Avenue to New York Avenue.
The multi-talented Milkowski models and has worked in television, digital media and radio since 2006. She also won an Emmy for her writing, said Tom Dabertin, Pierogi Fest chairman. In addition, she hosts her own show, “Jenny Milk and Jay,” on SHE 100.3 FM and numerous digital series, including her wildly successful Facebook page, “Jenny Milkowski TV,” where she posts lessons on being Polish.
In 2017, Milkowski attended her first Pierogi Fest and said she’s extremely excited to be part of this year’s Pierogi Fest.
“Dziekuje bardzo! I am so happy, humbled and proud to be part of this year’s parade as the Pierogi Queen. Bring on the babcias and the kielbasa. I’m ready to rock my red and white. Na zdrowie!” she said.
Applications are still available for entries to join the 25th annual parade from the Whiting-Robertsdale Chamber of Commerce — and yes, the parade is a year older than the festival, Dabertin said.
“This is not your mother’s parade. This is not your grandmother’s parade. This parade is off the wall and nuts,” he said. “The crazier the entries, the better.”
HAMMOND — Merrillville attorney John Halstead has agreed not to speak again at an upcoming naturalization ceremony after a federal magistrate judge raised concerns about a talk he gave during the July 4 ceremony at Hammond's Wolf Lake Pavilion.
Halstead said he was attempting to encourage citizens, both new and old, to exercise their constitutional rights to assemble and speak out when he delivered a speech critical of this country's immigration laws earlier this month.
But he unwittingly attracted the ire of U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Andrew P. Rodovich, who called on the Indiana State Bar Association to no longer assign Halstead to speak on the group's behalf at naturalization events.
Rodovich, who presided over the ceremony, accused Halstead of deviating from his role by making comments he said were "political in nature and totally inappropriate."
"He used the ceremony as a soapbox to oppose the enforcement of our immigration laws," the judge wrote in a letter to the Bar Association.
Bar Association Communications Manager Michael Sanserino said Tuesday afternoon Halstead had informed the group he "will respect Judge Rodovich’s request and has voluntarily withdrawn from an upcoming naturalization ceremony."
Rodovich said Halstead's comments were inappropriate both because the ceremony was an official court proceeding and because Halstead encouraged 47 people who entered the country legally and followed the established route to citizenship to demonstrate in support of illegal immigrants, Rodovich wrote.
"In short, he advocated preferential treatment for people who intentionally, and sometimes repeatedly, have violated our immigration laws," Rodovich wrote.
Halstead, who declined comment beyond his own letter sent to the Bar Association, said in the letter that while he respects Rodovich's right to an opinion on the immigration system, he believes his comments were "consistent with the highest values of this country" and his oath as an attorney to "uphold justice and 'never reject ... the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed.'"
Halstead said he disagrees his expression of personal political beliefs was inappropriate for the ceremony and argues that every speaker, including presiding judges, express their own opinions.
"The political nature of such expressions tends to be highlighted only when one disagrees with them," he wrote.
In his speech, Halstead spoke about the "incredible wait times" to become a citizen and argued that documented and undocumented immigrants are five times less likely to commit crimes and are often better examples of patriotism than those born here.
Undocumented immigrants suffer in this country with substandard pay and are denied basic social and health services and face the threat of sudden deportation even after years of working, paying taxes, starting businesses, buying homes and even serving in the military, he said.
"Thomas Jefferson is said to have said that dissent is the 'highest form of patriotism,'" Halstead said.
Halstead said more people thanked him for his remarks than during any other naturalization ceremony he has spoken at and one newly naturalized citizen even requested a photo with him.
Rosalie Levinson, senior research professor at Valparaiso University School of Law, who also spoke during the July 4 naturalization ceremony, called on the group to fight against the current wave of bigotry and xenophobia promulgated in the world today.
By speaking out, protesting and voting, she told the group they can uphold the values symbolized by the Statue of Liberty that welcomed her parents 70 years ago as they fled the Holocaust.
Naturalization Ceremony Speech
Gallery: Naturalization Ceremony in Hammond's Wolf Lake Pavilion