HOBART – The Board of Works and Public Safety wrapped up a two-day hearing Friday without reaching a decision on whether to impose a recommended suspension for a police officer seriously injured during a drunken brawl involving other officers.
Officer Adam Ahmad requested the hearing after Hobart Police Chief Richard Zormier recommended Ahmad and officers Andrew and Adrian Bustos, who are brothers, each receive a 60-day unpaid suspension for their actions while off duty during a June 3 party after a baby shower for Andrew Bustos’ wife.
The Bustoses each accepted the recommended suspensions last month. Ahmad denied the allegations and requested a hearing.
Ahmad testified Friday he did not pull a man from a car by his hair or instigate fights with other officers. Ahmad said he attempted to break up several fights before Adrian Bustos punched him multiple times in the face and Andrew Bustos knocked him out with a punch and kicked him in the face while he was down.
“I tried to do the right thing and shouldn’t be punished because my brother officers did the wrong thing,” Ahmad said in a statement issued after the hearing.
Zormier said he asked Griffith police to conduct an independent investigation into the brawl and the results revealed a lot of “he said, she said.”
“I think there was some elements of self-defense in there on behalf of different parties,” Zormier said after the hearing.
Ahmad and the Bustoses each have commendations in their files for life-saving efforts, he said. He didn’t want to end their careers, so he recommended the unpaid suspensions with the hope it would “get their attention,” he said. The suspensions will result in the loss of thousands of dollars in pay.
“I don’t condone anybody ever putting their hands on each other,” Zormier said.
The board is scheduled to announce its decision during a meeting Aug. 28, said City Attorney Anthony DeBonis Jr., the administrative hearing officer.
Two sides to the story
Ahmad testified Friday he arrived about 5 or 6 p.m. June 3 at Andrew Bustos’ Hobart home and spent six or seven hours there.
Ahmad said he drank 250 milliliters of whiskey during that time, but did not consider himself to be intoxicated. Records and testimony show Adrian and Andrew Bustos also admitted to being intoxicated.
Ahmad said he helped separate Andrew Bustos and a younger brother, Jesse Bustos, as they argued and later attempted to break up a fight between Andrew Bustos and Rudy Azcona, who had arrived to pick up Jesse Bustos.
Ahmad said he was trying to help hold back Andrew Bustos after Azcona entered a vehicle when Adrian Bustos shoved him, knocking him to the ground. He suffered an abrasion to about one-third of his right palm.
“I stood back up and I asked Adrian why he had done that,” Ahmad said.
Adrian Bustos said nothing and punched Ahmad two or three times in the face, Ahmad testified.
The situation was so out of control, Ahmad said, he called an on-duty patrol sergeant to respond to the house, he said.
Ahmad said he recalled Sgt. William Granzow arriving and then seeing Andrew Bustos before “things went black.”
A uniformed office helped him off the ground and took him to the emergency room at St. Mary Medical Center, he said.
Statements submitted by Granzow and Cpl. Timothy Pochron, who responded to the home at the request of Granzow, show they saw Andrew Bustos kick Ahmad in the face.
Granzow, the first to arrive, wrote in a report that he was checking on Andrew Bustos’ pregnant wife and trying to get people to calm down when he turned around and saw Andrew Bustos hit Ahmad in the face, causing him to fall down. As Ahmad lay “dazed or unresponsive,” Andrew Bustos kicked Ahmad in the head and face area, according to Granzow’s report.
Pochron arrived to the scene after Ahmad was down, his report shows.
Pochron wrote he saw a man, later identified as Ahmad, lying in the middle of the street.
“I observed Officer (Andrew) Bustos kick the male subject approximately two times and on the third time I observed Officer (Andrew) Bustos bring his right leg back and with tremendous force kick the male subject in the face as I was exiting my police vehicle,” Pochron’s report says.
Pochron recalled hearing Ahmad say, “Tim, I can’t see please help me.”
Andrew Bustos testified Monday, the first day of Ahmad’s hearing, that he wrestled with Azcona inside the house and Ahmad stepped in to help remove Azcona. He said he stayed inside while Ahmad continued outside with Azcona.
Adrian Bustos testified Monday he saw Ahmad grab Azcona by the hair and attempt to pull him from the vehicle. Adrian Bustos and his sister Alexandra Bustos said they were yelling at Ahmad to stop when Alexandra Bustos got between Ahmad and her brother and Ahmad shoved her.
“It was a hostile push,” Adrian Bustos testified.
Adrian Bustos testified he hit Ahmad on the left side of his face “near the lip and between the cheekbone,” and Ahmad grabbed him by the neck. He said he couldn’t breathe, blacked out for “more than a couple seconds” and later discovered bruise marks on his chest.
Azcona did not say Ahmad grabbed his hair.
“I do have long hair, and my hair was down, so it did get tangled up a little bit,” Azcona testified. “But that was honestly about it. Nothing too serious. My hair got tangled up into it, so that’s why my head was down like that, and I was protecting my face. Because my hair was tangled in all of it.”
Andrew Bustos testified he went outside after he was told Adrian Bustos and Ahmad were fighting and Ahmad had called Granzow. He said he began pushing Ahmad back toward the house and Ahmad walked toward Granzow’s car and told Ahmad to stop.
Andrew Bustos testified Ahmad hit him, causing his nose to bleed. However, that contradicted an earlier statement he gave to a Griffith police detective. In the earlier statement, Andrew Bustos said Ahmad didn’t punch him but must have shoved him to the ground, causing his nose to bleed.
Ahmad denied hitting Andrew Bustos.
Andrew Bustos admitted he punched Ahmad, causing him to go down. However, in testimony Monday, he described the actions that followed as something other than a kick.
“After he fell to the ground, I — at that time, I was wearing sandals,” he said. “He was laying down on the left – the left side of his face was down,” Andrew Bustos said. “I recall grazing the right side of his face with the bottom of my sandal. It wasn’t a kick.”
In an earlier statement to Griffith police, Andrew Bustos said, “I kick him,” as he recounted the events and recalled “blood all over the ground” but “absolutely no blood on my sandal.”
“It was stupid. It was a horrible mistake of me,” Andrew Bustos told the Griffith detective. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Off-duty Portage police Detective Jerremy McFadden also was involved in the fight, but DeBonis struck the testimony he gave Monday after he refused to answer further questions Friday and took the Fifth Amendment. McFadden is the boyfriend of Alexandra Bustos.
Adam Mindel, attorney for the Hobart Police Department, said in closing statements that Ahmad shared the blame.
“Where there is smoke, there is fire,” he said. “It simply doesn’t make sense that all these altercations could have occurred without any provocation from Officer Ahmad.”
The goal wasn’t to vilify any of the officers, but simply to discipline them for their actions, he said.
No criminal charges considered
Ahmad’s attorney, Christopher Cooper, questioned why Zormier didn’t order the arrest of Andrew Bustos the night of the fight.
Two on-duty officers witnessed the kick, and there was ample evidence an aggravated battery had occurred, Cooper said. He didn’t fault the officers who responded to the scene, he said.
“He suffered a horrific beating,” Cooper said.
Ahmad testified he spent six hours in the emergency room. His eye now sits differently in the socket, which may require surgery to prevent deterioration of his eyesight if the bone doesn’t heal properly. He’s at risk for retinal detachment because of the extent of his injuries, he said.
He had four chipped teeth, including one that was sheared off. A dentist told him two teeth may require root canals or crowns in the future.
Cooper said Zormier should have asked the Lake County prosecutor’s office to review the case for criminal charges and asked the Board of Works to turn over its findings to Prosecutor Bernard Carter.
Zormier said all of the officers, including Ahmad, initially said they didn’t want the fight to become a criminal matter.
“I respected that,” he said.
Zormier said he’s leery about presenting the case for criminal prosecution now, because the record has been muddied by the administrative proceedings. However, he didn’t rule out forwarding the case to Carter’s office.
A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office confirmed Friday the case had not been forwarded for review.
Carter could request to review the case, Zormier said.
Ahmad testified Zormier visited him several days after the fight and suggested alcohol treatment might be part of the punishment for the Bustoses.
Zormier said he visited with all three of the officers and told each of them drinking likely negatively influenced their actions and decisions. He didn’t require alcohol treatment as part of the discipline, because he didn’t feel he could administratively charge them with an alcohol-related offense, he said.
They were drinking in a private home during a private party, he said.
None of the officers submitted to a portable breath test the night of the fight, Zormier said.