Ex-police officer won’t face prostitution charge

GREENFIELD — Prosecutors announced they will dismiss a promoting prostitution charge against a former Greenfield police officer after a judge tossed out key evidence in the case.

Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton acknowledged the judge’s ruling late last month to suppress the evidence was a significant blow to the case, which relied on text messages between former Lt. Terry Austin and two women to whom he is accused of offering money for sex.

Eaton said he would consider other evidence after the text messages were thrown out. This week, he confirmed he is preparing a motion to dismiss the case, as he would “not be able to introduce the evidence necessary to prove this case if it were to proceed to trial.”

Indiana State Police, who led the investigation, obtained a warrant for the former third-shift supervisor’s personal cellphone during an unrelated criminal investigation after Austin was accused of bribery in April 2014. Hancock Circuit Judge Richard Culver ruled investigators went beyond the scope of that warrant when they downloaded 71,000 text messages and found texts they argued showed proof of a new crime.

“There is no evidence the Indiana State Police could not have conducted a limited search … and only downloaded text messages to and from telephone numbers associated with (the bribery case),” Culver wrote in his ruling.

Austin was convicted of bribery and official misconduct in a two-day trial late last year after a dispatcher reported him for offering at least three fellow officers a $200 steak dinner if they would pull over Austin’s ex-wife and tow her car because she was driving with a suspended license.

During that investigation, officers confiscated Austin’s personal cellphone and examined his text history. There, court documents state, they found conversations suggesting Austin offered two women $200 if they would have sex with a friend of his visiting from out of town.

Austin, who was fired from the Greenfield Police Department following his bribery conviction, said those conversations were private and were taken out of context by investigators.

State police downloaded the text messages after obtaining a warrant, and that information was given to Austin’s superiors as they were conducting an internal investigation into the allegations against the officer.

“They had an obligation as police officers, investigators, to check the authenticity and the reliability of evidence given to them,” Austin said. “If you trace it back, you would have said, ‘No, this is no good.’”

The bribery case was the first of three criminal cases filed against Austin in about four months. The promoting prostitution case was filed in June 2014. Two months later, he was arrested a third time and charged with drunken-driving.

The motorcycle Austin was driving in the 9500 block of North County Road 600W nearly sideswiped a passing police car, prompting the officer to pull Austin over and give him a breath test.

The test registered Austin’s blood alcohol content at 0.12 percent, over the legal threshold of 0.08 percent.

Austin pleaded guilty late last month to operating a vehicle while intoxicated; he will serve a year’s probation and a 90-day driver’s license suspension.

He recently finished serving a year on home detention for the bribery and official misconduct conviction, which he is appealing.

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Noelle Steele is editor of the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3232 or nsteele@greenfieldreporter.com.