KOUTS — Town Council President Tim Jones was among those surprised to learn that someone had scaled one of the town's water towers this past weekend and spray painted upside down crosses, 666s and a racial slur.
"It makes me sad that someone would write that nowadays," he said of the tower at 204 S. Maple St. "I just think people should have a little more common sense."
Jones said he is not only offended by the messages left on the tower, but also that someone would do that to property not their own.
"It's public property, stay off of it," he said.
The graffiti, which remained visible Thursday morning from the busy intersection of Ind. 49 and Ind. 8, was discovered Sunday morning, Police Chief James Smith said.
Someone scaled the narrow ladder a couple hundred feet up late Saturday night or during the pre-dawn hours of Sunday, he said. The offensive graffiti was painted on two sides of the tower and joins graffiti painted a couple years ago.
Anyone with information about the graffiti is encouraged to contact the town police department by telephone, email or through Facebook, Smith said.
The vandalism is not only offensive to the community, but will be costly to address, Jones said. An outside firm has to be hired to paint it over and there will be the additional expense of an additive so the paint sticks in this cold weather, he said.
"It's cold outside and paint doesn't like sticking in the cold," Jones said.
This paint job and the addition of a block on the tower ladder to keep trespassers away is going to cost the town $5,000, he said.
The long-term fix of repainting the entire tower and installing fencing around its base to keep people out will add another $15,000 to the cost, Jones said. The town is going to have to draw the money from its rainy day fund.
The cold weather is slowing the response, which is why residents continue to see the offensive graffiti nearly a week later, he said.
CHICAGO — A judge on Thursday acquitted three Chicago police officers of trying to cover up the 2014 police shooting of Laquan McDonald to protect the white officer seen pulling the trigger on dashcam video that showed the black teen getting hit with 16 bullets.
In rejecting the prosecution's entire case, Judge Domenica Stephenson seemed to accept many of the same defense arguments that were rejected by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke, who was convicted in October of second-degree murder and aggravated battery and is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
The judge said there was no indication that officers tried to hide evidence.
"The evidence shows just the opposite," she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
McDonald's family immediately questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions. His great uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means "that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal."
"To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty." He also said "it is a sad day for America."
The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department that has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality and misconduct.
Officer Joseph Walsh, officer Thomas Gaffney and detective David March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department.
Both trials hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street and barely moving. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city's South Side.
Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke's partner, submitted false reports about what really happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that McDonald ignored verbal commands from Van Dyke, that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung a knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.
McDonald did have a small knife that he had used to puncture a tire on Gaffney's police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.
"The case is clear. The case is straightforward, and it is concise," Special Prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes told the judge during opening statements. "It boils down to what the defendants wrote on paper versus what is shown on video."
When later summarizing her case, Holmes urged Stephenson to hold the officers accountable and to provide some measure of justice to the slain teen.
McDonald "was a human being. He deserved due process in the law and not to have police officers write false reports and shape a false narrative," Holmes said.
The attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defense used at Van Dyke's trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.
It was McDonald's refusal to drop his knife and threatening actions that "caused these officers to see what they saw," March's attorney, James McKay, told the court. "This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night."
The lawyers ridiculed the decision to charge the three officers, saying they merely wrote what they observed or, in March's case, what the other officers told him they saw. And they said there was no evidence that the officers conspired to get their stories straight.
"The state wants you to criminalize police reports," McKay bellowed at one point.
The McDonald shooting sparked large protests and led to major changes to Chicago's policing. City Hall only released the video to the public in November 2015 — 13 months after the shooting — because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video's release.
The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county's top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also stunning because it led to charges not only against Van Dyke, but against the three officers accused of covering for each other as part of a "code of silence" that until recent years city officials adamantly denied even existed.
At the same time, the case triggered a federal investigation that resulted in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and implemented a host of other reforms to change the way they investigate officer-involved shootings.
GRIFFITH — Portage High School student Alayna Ortiz died last week as an innocent bystander in a botched robbery of her boyfriend, police said Thursday.
Police have arrested Giovante Marshuan Galloway, 21, of Gary, and his uncle Juarez E. Rogers on murder and other charges. Police also are looking to identify and locate three unidentified men accused of taking part in the robbery.
Murder, attempted robbery, burglary and attempted burglary counts have been filed in Lake Criminal Court against Galloway, who is being held without bond, and Rogers, 48, of Park Forest, Illinois.
Galloway appeared in court Thursday on the charges. No trial date has been set yet.
Police and the Lake County prosecutor's office said Galloway, Rogers and three of Rogers' cohorts from Illinois took part in the attempted holdup Jan. 9 that ended in the parking lot at the Park West Apartments, where one of them allegedly shot Ortiz in the head.
Griffith police Cmdr. Keith Martin told a news conference Thursday afternoon the identity of the man who shot Ortiz "is still under investigation."
"Based on the information we have now, we have no reason to believe Alayna was the intended target," Martin said.
An affidavit the prosecutor filed in court this week alleges Galloway and his uncle did target her boyfriend, William Michael Hawkins, 18, of Hobart, because he sold large amounts of marijuana he obtained from associates in California.
Authorities allege Hawkins had loaned Galloway marijuana for resale on the street and Galloway hatched the robbery because he couldn't make enough money to repay Hawkins.
Police said the plan went into effect after a delivery service brought a large amount of marijuana and vaping sticks containing THC — an active ingredient from marijuana — to a residence in the 4400 block of Madison Street in Gary where Hawkins stayed.
Galloway, his uncle and the three men twice attempted to steal the marijuana from Hawkins during burglary attempts, but a friend of Hawkins repulsed them by wildly firing guns at them, authorities said.
Hawkins and his friends fled the Madison Street address Jan. 9 and drove to what they thought would be the safety of a relative's home at the Park West Apartments in Griffith.
Unbeknownst to Hawkins, Galloway's group watched from a distance and saw Hawkins' group leave with bags they suspected contained marijuana, according to reports. They allegedly followed Hawkins' red SUV from Gary to Griffith with the intention of robbing Hawkins.
Hawkins pulled into a parking space at the apartment complex. Galloway's associates pulled up behind him to block him in and they walked up to Hawkins' SUV with guns drawn, records state.
Witnesses told police one of the men knocked on the SUV's window with the butt end of a pistol and attempted to open the door. Hawkins was driving away to escape when witnesses heard glass break and realized Ortiz had been shot, records state.
Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance said at the news conference charges were brought through collective efforts of Griffith police; the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Secret Service; the Indiana State Police crime laboratory; the Lake and Porter County prosecutor's offices; the Lake County coroner; the South Suburban Illinois Task Force; the Northwest Regional SWAT team; the Chicago Police Department; and others.
"Two of the known offenders responsible for Alayna's murder, Galloway and Rogers, will answer for the heinous crime," Mance said.
Martin said Thursday that Hawkins isn't charged with any crimes in this case, but court records indicate he has a history of violence and drug-related offenses pending in local courts.
Court records indicate authorities were able to reconstruct the crime by piecing together statements of several witnesses.
Hawkins told police someone in California "fronted" him marijuana and he still owed that person, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Galloway told investigators he had met Hawkins through school and bought marijuana from him because he gets "the best prices," court records state.
Galloway said he owed Hawkins $1,600 for marijuana, had numerous other expenses and did not have a job, according to an affidavit.
Galloway told police Hawkins would provide marijuana to him at a discounted price. Galloway could resell it and keep the profits, according to accounts. However, Galloway soon realized he would not be able to make enough money to pay Hawkins.
He called his uncle, Rogers, and together they planned to steal Hawkins' marijuana, sell that and then pay his debt to Hawkins, records state. Rogers brought along three men who told Galloway they intended to rob Hawkins, records state.
Police: 'Plotting' led to homicide
Galloway told police they drove to the residence where Hawkins was staying and one of the three unidentified Illinois men used a credit card to defeat a lock, but alerted Hawkins' friends inside, including one who fired shots in the direction of the noise. Galloway's group retreated to their car parked about 100 yards away.
Galloway's group allegedly waited until Hawkins arrived and emerged with friends from the home carrying several bags. Galloway's group followed them to Griffith, where the shooting took place, records state.
Galloway's group allegedly returned to the Madison Street address, stole cash, marijuana and televisions from inside and split up the valuables among them.
When police executed a search warrant Jan. 10 at the home on Madison Street, they found someone already had burglarized the residence. Galloway told police he and his associates returned to the home after shooting Ortiz and stole THC cartridges, marijuana and two televisions, records state.
Police ask anyone with information about the case to call at 219-924-7503, ext. 252. To remain anonymous, call 219-922-3085.
CROWN POINT — A Gary man was charged Wednesday in connection with a shooting that wounded a 20-year-old man last weekend in the city's Midtown section.
Robert Lacy, 30, is accused of shooting a man who argued and fought earlier with Lacy's girlfriend.
The victim told police Lacy's girlfriend arrived at a home in the 2300 block of Washington Street to talk with another woman, but the victim turned her away because the woman was sleeping, Lake Criminal Court records say.
As they walked upstairs, Lacy's girlfriend kicked the victim, according to a probable cause affidavit. They argued and fought, and the woman allegedly bit the victim's chest and thumb.
Later, the 20-year-old man was walking back from a gas station when Lacy and his girlfriend pulled up and argued with him, records say.
Lacy shot out the window several times with a handgun, striking the man in the leg, records say. Lacy's girlfriend then allegedly drove off.
Lacy was charged with level 4 felony possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and level 5 felony battery by means of a deadly weapon.
He was not in custody late Wednesday.
Anyone with information about Lacy's whereabouts is asked to call Gary police at 219-881-1210. To remain anonymous, call 866-CRIME-GP.
EAST CHICAGO — The city is allowing an acting sergeant accused of soliciting naked photos from a female officer-in-training and a Central High School teen to remain on the payroll as its human resources department carries out its investigation.
"The belated allegations against (acting Sgt. Juda Parks) are just that — allegations. His duty status has not changed," city attorney Darnail Lyles said Wednesday, a day after two female officers filed employment discrimination complaints against the city.
Lyles said the city plans to "vigorously defend" itself against Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints filed Tuesday by ex-Officer Madelline Melendez and Officer Ashly Rodriguez.
Melendez, 24, alleges she was forced to quit Monday because she planned to come forward with allegations that Parks, as a school resource officer, sought naked photos while she was a 17-year-old student at Central High School and again in 2018 through text messages.
Rodriguez filed a complaint alleging harassment and a hostile work environment at the department.
Internal memos obtained by The Times Media Co. shows she went to her superiors Dec. 24 with a sexual harassment complaint against Parks, claiming he solicited naked photos from her, too, on more than one occasion.
Lyles said the Monday resignations of Melendez and another officer, Mitchell Tipton, were the result of events that occurred during a domestic altercation Dec. 30 in Hobart and the Police Department's investigation of that matter.
No charges were filed against either and they were able to return to work after a five-day suspension.
Melendez's attorney said he believes she was terminated by way of constructive discharge — she was forced to quit or be fired — in retaliation for coming to them with sexual harassment allegations against Parks.
Parks, who is also an ex-city councilman, was convicted of two misdemeanors in federal court in 2013 for failing to file his taxes two years in a row. He was allowed to keep his job after that and has worked security in the school district.
East Chicago schools superintendent Paige McNulty said she had no comment on allegations against Parks.
CROWN POINT — Two sisters accused of breaking into a Merrillville home and attacking a couple and an 18-month-old child turned themselves in to police on Wednesday morning.
Donisha L. Bowers, 23, of Gary, and Man-nisha D. Bowers, 20, of Valparaiso, are accused of going to the home in the 7100 block of Fillmore Street to confront Man-nisha Bowers' ex-girlfriend and another woman.
Donisha Bowers was charged Monday with burglary, criminal confinement, two counts of battery, pointing a firearm and criminal mischief, according to court records. Man-nisha Bowers was charged with burglary, criminal confinement, three counts of battery, intimidation and criminal mischief.
Warrants were issued for their arrests, and the two women turned themselves in on Wednesday morning, according to Cmdr. Jeff Rice. The sisters were being held in Lake County Jail with a $1,500 bond.
Cmdr. Rice said Detective Sean Buck spoke with both women and is investigating the case.
The victims told police they heard knocking at a front door that grew louder, and it sounded like someone was trying to break the door, Lake Criminal Court records state.
The ex-girlfriend told people inside the home to hide and was caught in the hallway by Donisha Bowers, who allegedly pointed a gun at her, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Man-nisha Bowers allegedly struck the other woman in the head and face and drew a large knife, saying, "I'm going to kill you" as she attempted to cut the woman, records say. The woman suffered a small cut on her face.
Donisha Bowers is accused of hitting the 18-month-old boy in the head. Man-nisha Bowers allegedly kicked him as he ran toward his mother, causing him to fall into a closet and cry, records state.
The sisters are alleged to have destroyed a door, TV, table, cable box, surveillance camera and gaming console while at the home. They fled with a man before police arrived, who did not enter the house, records state.
Man-nisha Bower's ex-girlfriend was scratched and suffered head pain, but did not seek medical treatment. The other woman and her toddler were taken to a hospital, records state.