Southport’s Director of Public Safety, Kevin Bandy and fellow Board member, Andrew Harrison walked out of the monthly Safety Board meeting in protest after the Mayor, Jesse Testruth and Chief of Police, Randall Ellison failed to curtail alleged illegal activities by certain Southport police department employees.
At the forefront of the protest are concerns of legality in recent of police activities by Southport Assistant Chief, William “Wild Bill” Bick. Bandy calmly explained his concerns but pushback from Ellison and Testruth led to heated discussions regarding Indiana requirements for law enforcement officers, alleged felony activities and civil rights violations.
Citizens at the Saturday board meeting called into question the required certifications of both Ellison and Bick. “I don’t know where my credentials are today” said Ellison when asked; “but I’ll start looking first thing Monday morning”. “Bill should begin his final requirement next week” he continued. Those in the audience were left to conclude that Bick had been acting without certification for months.
Chief Ellison described to Bandy and Harrison that and it appears that he hasn’t been since he was first hired by the department [120512 SoBPS (Bick's lack of certification)]. Ellison went further, admitting that Bick has been using police powers, police radio and marked vehicles along with his Southport badge to stop unwary citizens and has even detained them using police powers authorized by Ellison for months. Some unsuspecting victims were taken away in a County jail van. Southport resident, Charles “Buddy” Lynch had also complained to Bick that his arrests were inappropriate and heavy handed. Bick told him to “get back into your house or I’ll arrest you too”.
Harrison expressed his frustrations that earlier letters from the Safety Board to both Ellison and Testruth were ignored while the questionable activities continued. “We [the Safety Board] are truly concerned that these actions [that appear to be an impersonation of a police officer] are not only a criminal violation but could well be construed as civil rights violations” explained Harrison. “We brought them to Chief Ellison and he dismissed them”.
The Southport Police Department was also in the news in 2009 when then Mayor, Robin Thoman shook up the department firing Asst. Chief, Mark Myers for failure to enforce policies, insubordination and conduct injurious to public peace or welfare. A disciplinary board found that Myers had failed to the follow the established chain of command, exhibited conduct unbecoming of an officer and had violated departmental rules of conduct. Myers was demoted and suspended without pay. Chief Duane Burgess resigned shortly thereafter describing the need for more time to attend to personal affairs. Thoman chose Steve Davis as the next Chief of Police from three candidates selected by a citizen search committee that reviewed over thirty qualified applicants.
Testruth described the recent Board request as “too heavy handed”. “You [Public Safety Director] can’t tell the Chief what to do. You need to work with him” said Testruth. Harrison explained that “condoning illegal activities by the Assistant Chief is not what [he] and Bandy had signed up for”. “The checks and balances provided by the Public Safety Board are in place to protect the City, its citizens and the general public” said Harrison.
Complicating matters was Testruth’s decision to eliminate the Board of Public Safety soon after learning of Harrisons and Bandy’s concerns. “There’s too much bickering going on” Testruth stated. “I’m considering combining the Safety Board with the Board of Public Works.”
That seemed to be the last straw for Harrison and Bandy who repeated their concerns that the Safety Board exists for just these matters. “We volunteer our time and professional talent for the benefit of the City and our intentions are only to help the community we care so much about” said Bandy before he left. Harrison explained afterward. “We expect the Chief to adhere the laws of Indiana and the City of Southport and don’t want to see illegal activities occur in our own police department. We thought the Mayor would back us up on this”.
“I’m surprised to learn that things have broken down so quickly in the department” described former mayor, Robin Thoman. “Chief Davis had accomplished so much during his time as Chief of Police. Davis left the city with a stable, well trained and fully staffed department. It’s sad to see the moral so low among such good officers” said Thoman. “That Ellison knew of these improprieties and chose to ignore them is inconceivable”.
Department Chaplain, Billy McKinney had also spoken to Mayor Testruth but “the mayor just wouldn’t listen” said McKinney. “You can’t fire half of the force and expect things not to get shook up” he explained. “I certainly think it’s a bad idea to eliminate the Safety Board. Why, would you do such a dumb thing? I’ll do anything I can to help straighten this mess out”.
The department has only half the original officers when the year began under Ellison’s watch. “I know we are understaffed, but I got some things in the works” explained Ellison when questioned during the Board meeting.
Soon after joining Testruth’s “Team Southport” in January, Ellison quickly dismissed a number of seasoned officers including lead investigator, Lt. Jeffery Taft and Asst. Chief, Thomas Wright. The untimely dismissals caused County prosecutors to drop felony charges against Southport suspects when critical testimony by officers was no longer available. “It’s a black eye for the City when years of investigations results in sustainable charges only to be dismissed or dropped” said Thoman. “Our neighbors are not going to like the consequences of this department’s short-sighted decisions that embolden hoodlums and local nuisances. We can’t afford this kind of department management too much longer. I pray the mayor gets this cleaned up quickly”.