Attorney Elizabeth Cure's words of warning after Scott Wells' jury trial last November have taken on grave new meaning in the opening days of 2004.
"Now there is nothing to stop people like Bud Bernitt and J.D. Maxwell from controlling the political arena," Cure told the Indiana Daily Student after Wells' Nov. 16, 2003, misdemeanor convictions on disorderly conduct and drunken driving. "They now have a license to do whatever they want because, in their eyes, they've won."
Burnitt is a local developer/property rights activist who orchestrated the conspiracy that led to County Councilman Wells' arrest on drunken driving charges and subsequent beating by two Indiana State Police Troopers on Sept. 27, 2002. Maxwell is a State Trooper who sicked his fellow troopers on Wells.
Prosecutors initially leveled six charges against Wells, including felony battery on a police officer, even though he was not given a battery of field-sobriety tests on the night of his arrest, and the only blood-alcohol test he was given showed him under the legal limit for drinking and driving.
The high school science teacher and former Ironman Triathlete was convicted under a relatively new drunken driving law that essentially says, based on the subjective opinion of the police, citizens can be convicted of drunken driving without any proof that they are intoxicated or that their driving endangers anyone.
Special Judge Frank Nardi from Owen County last Wednesday sentenced Wells to one year in prison, all suspended, and placed him on probation for a year. During his probation, the state can enter Wells' home at any time, day or night, and subject him to drug and alcohol tests. If even a trace of alcohol shows up in his system, Wells can be sent to prison for up to a year.
While he is appealing his conviction, Wells said Saturday morning that he has not decided whether he will seek re-election to his at-large County Council seat this year. He did not rule it out.
Wells' life has been devastated by those who openly and publicly vowed to destroy him and whose tactics were ignored by some who may soon understand that Elizabeth Cure was right. No one involved in politics is safe in Bloomington.
Consider the ominous monologue unleashed by Burnitt upon City Council Democrats in general, and Councilman Tim Mayer in particular, at the council's first meeting of the year. Burnitt accused Mayer of "making fun" of him and the recent closing of the Gray Brothers Cafeteria on Bloomington's west side.
"I would just like to simply say, Mr. Mayer, I find your comments very rude," Burnitt said in a voice trembling with anger. "... We have 150 people that lost their jobs, good-paying jobs for a restaurant. I don't think that's funny. Do you think it's funny?"
A year-and-a-half ago, after developer Steve Smith was fined $23,100 by the county for environmental violations at his Pedigo Bay development on Lake Monroe, Burnitt posted the following on the H-T Message Board under the moniker "Tree cutter": "Sorry Scott but there is no fun place for scott wells on my watch! That freakin' hypocrite is going down. ... Scott wells and the Democrats just started WW III!"
On the night of Sept. 27, after more than a year of relentless harassment of Wells and former County Commissioner Brian O'Neill, Bernitt followed Wells to three downtown bars, reported him to Maxwell, who had the State Police dispatch Troopers Stacey Brown and Travis Coryea into downtown Bloomington on a Friday night. As the arrest and beating transpired at Seventh and Dunn, Burnitt watched from less than a block away while talking to Smith on his cell phone.
Further consider what Herald-Times reporter Katy Murphy called a "fierce written statement" aimed at Wells that Brown read into the record during Wells' sentencing hearing last Wednesday. As if to punctuate Cure's words of caution, Brown said: "You are not a martyr. When it comes to the state police and myself, you're just another law violator who was caught and sent to jail."
Brown forgot to mention "beat up," an increasingly common technique employed against citizens by police from Bloomington to Cincinnati to South-Central Los Angeles. He further accused Wells of perverting the media and criminal justice systems to "victimize me, my family, and my department" and branded as "absurd" and "slanderous" Wells' claims that Brown was involved in a political conspiracy.
The record, however, is irrefutable that the Indiana State Police, through Trooper J.D. Maxwell, was involved in a political conspiracy against Wells that evening, a conspiracy that included Monroe County Council Vice President Jeff Ellington and other major players in the Monroe County Republican Party. Brown admitted under oath during Wells' trial that he was "irate" when he learned after stopping Wells that he had been unwittingly drawn into the conspiracy.
When a top officer at the Bloomington State Police Post, First Sgt. Dennis P. Kirkman, was brought into the case the evening of Wells' arrest, his first words to Telecommunications Officer Joann Forston were: "Tell me Maxwell's not involved in this." After Forston replied that Maxwell was involved, Kirkman, referring to Maxwell, directed that they "don't put nothing else out over the air about 89-33."
That was the last radio transmission of the evening.
Among the phone calls made in the immediate aftermath of Wells' arrest was one from ISP Corporal James Valentine to Deputy Prosecutor Mary Ellen Diekhoff. She immediately began helping the police put together their story.
"You can bet he is going to allege that he is set up," Diekhoff told Valentine. "You can bet that he is going to allege that there was no fight, that he was, you know, crucified and beat up."
Four eyewitnesses to the arrest, in fact, testified that is precisely what happened. All said Wells was not resisting arrest. One said the councilman was taken down so hard that he thought Wells must have had "a pound of heroin" in his car.
As the following excerpts from police tapes of that conversation show, Diekhoff, who guffawed at some descriptions of what transpired that night, saw her job as protecting the cops, not finding out what happened and then deciding whether charges were warranted.
Wells' drunken driving conviction was based upon the testimony of BPD officers who said they thought he was drunk.
Diekhoff, a Democrat who works for Republican Prosecutor Carl Salzmann and is married to City Council President and BPD Officer Mike Diekhoff, last week declared her candidacy for Monroe County Circuit Court Judge in the 2004 election.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.