VALPARAISO — A dispute this past weekend over a manicure that landed a local woman behind bars should be in civil, rather than criminal court, her attorney said Tuesday morning.

"It's not a crime in Indiana to have a dispute over services," defense attorney Bob Harper said.

Charley Fowler, 28, was taken to jail Saturday on preliminary charges of misdemeanor theft and criminal recklessness following the dispute shortly before noon at the Diamond Nails & Spa, 2505 LaPorte Ave. in Valparaiso.

She is accused by Valparaiso police of walking out of the business without paying a $30 bill after voicing her displeasure with a manicure. She also is accused of using her white BMW vehicle to drag a salon employee, who had followed her out of the business, across the parking lot.

Harper likened the situation to someone who eats three-quarters of a meal only to discover a maggot inside the food. That person should not be expected to pay for the meal, he said.

"This was a dispute over services," Harper said.

The charge of theft, which Fowler faces, is a crime of intent, he said. Harper said trying to apply the charge to this case is "absolutely, totally ridiculous."

"Does anyone think she went in there with the intent to steal?" Harper asked.

Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel, whose office will make the final determination on charges, said Tuesday morning he was waiting to see the surveillance video.

While salon employees told police they offered to redo the manicure and Fowler declined, Harper said Fowler was too busy to stay and said she would return the following day.

When salon employees opted to call police, Fowler said she would wait in her vehicle, Harper said.

Fowler claims she pulled out of her parking spot because salon employees were beating on the windows of her vehicle. She said she drove slowly to a nearby restaurant.

Police said a surveillance video shows she dragged an employee across the lot.

But Harper pointed out that Fowler is not accused of hitting the employee with her vehicle and dragging him. The employee jumped on her car, which Harper said is reflective of the improper vigilante approach in settling this case.

"Police are not supposed to get involved in civil disputes," Harper said. "They are not judges."

Fowler, who works as a mental health therapist in Munster, said Monday she hopes to have the case dismissed.

"I think this lady has been dealt with very unfairly," Harper said.

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.