FBI will look into THPD misconduct claims

An independent FBI investigation has been opened into an early Sunday vehicle pursuit involving three Terre Haute Police officers who have been placed on administrative leave.

Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt on Wednesday said he requested the FBI because other local police agencies were involved in the chase.

More than one allegation of officer misconduct was made involving the pursuit and arrest of 36-year-old Chance Kernstein, Modesitt said Wednesday.

The prosecutor declined to further discuss the allegations and said the investigation could take up to four weeks. No officer involved in the incident was wearing a body camera, Modesitt said.

Once the investigation is complete, Modesitt said he will review the case and determine if a special prosecutor needs to be appointed. He declined to talk about specific actions in the incident.

On Tuesday, Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen said he was made aware of an allegation of improper conduct by three officers following a Sunday morning pursuit that ended in Lewis.

“Pursuant to policy and practices regarding such allegations, the three officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation,” Keen said in a news release. “Also pursuant to policy, I spoke with the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office and requested an impartial investigation by an outside agency.”

Kernstein was arrested in connection to gunfire, a crash and a vehicle pursuit that began after 1:30 a.m. Sunday when city police were called to the area of Candlewood Suites in the 700 block of Wabash Avenue for a report of gunshots.

Details from a probable cause affidavit show multiple THPD officers were involved in the pursuit that reached 110 mph as Kernstein’s motorcycle traveled south from the downtown area on U.S. 41 and was stopped on Indiana 159 at a construction zone.

Officer Daniel Johnson reported Kernstein laid the motorcycle down and ran on foot into the construction area where he picked up a metal mallet and brandished it.

Johnson said he pointed his firearm at Kernstein and ordered the suspect to put the mallet down, but Kernstein turned and walked away. Johnson’s narrative said he then holstered his firearm and deployed his Taser, causing Kernstein to fall to the ground. Johnson said Kernstein moved his hand underneath his body near his waistband, causing Johnson to think Kernstein might have a concealed firearm.

Johnson said he ordered Kernstein to “show me your hands” but he refused, so in an attempt to gain compliance Johnson “attempted to kick him in his upper shoulder/arm area. Due to Chance’s movement, my right foot struck him in his head/ear area.”

Johnson said he then stunned Kernstein with a Taser in his back. He was then able to put Kernstein into handcuffs.

Officer Justin Gant was also involved in the pursuit and assisted in arresting Kernstein.

In the probable cause affidavit, Gant said he saw Johnson deploy his Taser as Kernstein refused to show his hands.

Gant said he holstered his firearm as he approached the suspect and “kicked him in the right side of his torso causing a sharp pain in my foot. The kick caused Chance to lower his arms” and roll to his stomach.

Gant said he began to pry Kernstein’s right arm around the elbow until he was able to remove it from under the suspect’s body and place it behind Kernstein’s back to be handcuffed.

Officer Brian Hall reported he was in the pursuit. Hall said he saw Gant and Johnson struggling with Kernstein. “I gave Chance a knee to his lower back to loosen his left arm.”

Probable cause for Kernstein’s arrest was found by Judge Michael Lewis, who ordered formal charges to be filed today.

Kernstein faces preliminary charges of criminal recklessness, intimidation, pointing a firearm and resisting arrest, all felonies, as well as false reporting and reckless driving as misdemeanors. His next court hearing is Monday, Sept. 28.

Bond was set at $35,000 with no 10 percent allowed.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

Lisa Trigg has been a reporter at the Tribune-Star since 2009. With more than 30 years of newspaper experience, she now covers general news with a focus on crime and courts.

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