Two Indiana officers were suspended after a stunning courtroom revelation that police thought a potential town council candidate was anti-police and arrested him, stopping him from running for office.
Brookville Police Chief Terry Mitchum and the investigating officer, Ryan Geiser, were suspended with pay from the nine-person force Thursday by the town’s council, which ordered them to stay away from other officers and town property. The council installed an interim chief in a brief emergency meeting and said it would begin searching for a permanent replacement.
Thalheimer said he decided not to run in the May 3 primary race for town council since the arrest rocked his hometown of 2,500 people and consumed his life. Immediately after he got out of jail, where he was held for about an hour, he said he couldn’t leave his bed. He said he felt he had been “destroyed” by the criminal charges, which exacerbated his depression and anxiety.
“I have a bad taste in my mouth about politics,” he said. “I knew politics was dirty, but I didn’t know I’d have to dumpster dive.”
The town council president, Curtis Ward, said there has been no finding of wrongdoing and noted the presumption of innocence in criminal cases. Mitchum and Geiser did not respond to requests for comment.
The controversy comes after Brookville police have not worn body cameras, which the town council could require. Huerkamp said they are the only full-time agency in the jurisdiction without any recording devices.
The news also coincides with federal prosecutors charging police officers who shot and killed Breonna Taylor with falsifying information, drawing attention to past cases when police misled judges who signed off on search warrants.
After his arrest, it took months before the hearing that cleared Thalheimer’s charges.
During the hearing, Elise Whittamore, a friend of Thalheimer, testified that Geiser called to ask her to run for the seat herself. He mentioned Thalheimer’s interest in the race, saying, “We don’t want him on the town board because he hates cops.” Three days later, Thalheimer was arrested.
“I was upset,” Whittamore said about reading in the local news that Geiser arrested Thalheimer.
Shortly after calling Whittamore, Geiser said he investigated a report from Thalheimer’s neighbor that items in his house were stolen and that Thalheimer was supposed to watch the house. Geiser went to Thalheimer’s house and spoke with Thalheimer’s roommate and alleged that he smelled marijuana. He returned with a search warrant Jan. 30 and arrested Thalheimer because of drugs allegedly found there but also for a months-old rape allegation that a prosecutor had said he wasn’t able to substantiate.
Geiser testified that another officer had told him there was new DNA evidence, but Geiser didn’t know what that was, and he wasn’t an officer on the investigation.
He also said he didn’t recall mentioning Thalheimer to Whittamore, but he said that he thought Thalheimer did not like police, and that the police chief was “not a huge supporter” of Thalheimer. The police chief ordered Thalheimer’s arrest, Geiser said.
“From everything that I’ve heard throughout the law enforcement community is that he wasn’t a fan of law enforcement,” Geiser said of Thalheimer.
Huerkamp cross-examined Geiser, asking him how he came to the “unusual” step of lodging a rape charge without seeing DNA evidence or consulting anyone in the prosecutor’s office.
“Did that make you feel uneasy that your department was — I mean, didn’t this case feel just a little bit too close to you considering, you know, what was going on?” the prosecutor asked.
“Yeah,” the officer said.
“Okay. And yet, today is the first time that a lot of this is coming out to the surface, isn’t it?” Huerkamp asked.
Indiana State Police spokesman Stephen Wheeles declined to comment further about the criminal investigation, saying it’s “in its earliest stages.” If state police find any employees of the Brookville Police Department committed a criminal violation, charges would be filed with the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office, or a special prosecutor could be appointed.
Thalheimer said he is looking into pursuing a civil rights claim against the police department, at a time when the Supreme Court has made it easier to sue police over wrongful arrests. Thalheimer said he had never considered himself anti-police before this experience. He said he and his criminal defense attorney, Judson McMillin, have wondered whether the police were concerned that he would have been in favor of requiring officers to wear body cameras.
McMillin said Thalheimer is not his only client to face false or exaggerated charges. Still, he said it’s highly unusual that the prosecutor stepped in to stop the case as Huerkamp did, in a legal maneuver McMillin said he had seen just twice in 20 years. Huerkamp said this is the first time he joined a defense motion to suppress charges.
“That’s the scary part, is that these things are happening everywhere,” McMillin said.