A physical altercation between Terre Haute and Indiana State Police officers at the scene of an arrest is at least part of the basis for complaints of improper police conduct and three city officers being placed on administrative leave, sources told the Tribune-Star.
City, state and county police are all declining to discuss specifics of an altercation between at least one city officer and one state trooper that occurred as city police were in the process early Sunday morning of arresting a shots-fired suspect after a chase that ended near the southern Vigo County town of Lewis.
Vigo County Prosecutor Terry Modesitt has requested an FBI investigation into allegations of more than one instance of officer misconduct in connection with the incident.
Multiple agencies were involved in the pursuit of Chase Kernstein, 36, of Lewis. He was a suspect in a downtown Terre Haute gunfire incident near Eighth and Ohio streets. Officers from the Terre Haute Police Department, Indiana State Police and the Vigo County Sheriff's Office were in the pursuit, which went south on U.S. 41 and eventually ended near a construction site on Indiana 159.
In a probable cause affidavit filed by Terre Haute police in Kernstein's case, city officers acknowledged kicking and kneeing Kernstein in an effort to get him to show his hands and to get him handcuffed.
The affidavit does not include statements from an Indiana State Police trooper who reportedly warned the arresting officers about the use of excessive force during the arrest. The affidavit also does not include witness statements from Vigo County sheriff's deputies also at the scene.
More than one source who wished to remain unnamed in the newspaper told the Tribune-Star that an interaction between a city officer and a trooper turned into a physical altercation or a fight.
Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse told the Tribune-Star today that the witness statements of deputies who were at the scene have been turned over to the FBI. Plasse declined to say more, citing the pending investigation.
ISP Sgt. Matt Ames, spokesman for the agency's Putnamville post, said a trooper at the scene of the arrest was not wearing a body camera, but his patrol car did have a dash camera. Video from that dash cam has been turned over to FBI investigators, Ames said.
No state troopers have been placed on leave or otherwise removed from duty because of the incident, Ames added.
Terre Haute Police Chief Shawn Keen today said his decision to place three city officers on administrative leave is part of the investigative process and not an indication of guilt or an assumption of wrongdoing.
“There has been a request to have the FBI conduct a fair and impartial investigation," Keen said in an email to the Tribune-Star. "Therefore, I will let them conduct that investigation without interfering and reserve any judgment or comments until that investigation has run its course and all the facts are known. To do anything else would be irresponsible, and unfortunately, something we have seen much too often in our society recently.
“In general terms, immediate relief of duty does not imply or establish guilt, but is rather a procedural step in a process that seeks to find the truth of an allegation. Therefore, being placed on administrative leave or immediate relief of duty is not a disciplinary step and does not by itself require a hearing before the merit board.”
Modesitt said he has an ethical obligation not to comment on the case while the FBI investigates. Modesitt said if the facts of the investigation warrant prosecution, he will ask for appointment of a special prosecutor.
The FBI investigation is estimated to take 30 days or more.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.