GREENFIELD — The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a former police officer accused of bribery, ruling he made “an effort to control the performance of a police officer” when he offered a $200 steak dinner to his colleagues if they would pull over his ex-wife and tow her car.
Former Lt. Terry Austin, who was convicted last year, never denied making that offer, but he argued his actions didn’t constitute bribery, just a reward for catching a woman he knew was driving with a suspended license. The court of appeals found Austin bribed officers to go “beyond the normal course of (their) duties.”
Despite the ruling, Austin’s attorney, John Tompkins of Indianapolis, is hopeful a legal victory in another, related case against the former Greenfield Police Department supervisor has left the door open for the court to set aside the felony conviction.
After Austin had already appealed his bribery conviction, a local judge ruled that evidence against him in another case — from the same cellphone search used in the bribery case — was obtained illegally. Making that same argument, Tompkins plans to submit a new request to have the bribery conviction overturned. If that request is successful, Austin would legally be able to serve again as a police officer.
During the course of investigating Austin for bribery, investigators found text messages suggesting he offered women money to have sex with a friend of his; and a subsequent case — promoting prostitution — was filed. But that charge was dropped after a local judge ruled investigators’ extensive search of Austin’s phone, including more than 70,000 texts, went beyond the scope of their warrant.
The court of appeals didn’t consider whether any evidence was illegally obtained because that argument was never made at trial, Tompkins said.
Now, Tompkins plans to file a motion arguing the warrant for Austin’s personal cellphone didn’t allow officers to search it at all, only confiscate the device. He said investigators should have requested a new warrant to download information from the phone, and even then, it would likely have been limited.
“Searches of cellphones are very, very restricted because there’s so much personal information on them,” he said. “What the police did in this case is they downloaded all the memory off of his phone. He’s got personal documents, personal emails, pictures — things that the police have absolutely no reason to believe is related. And now, they’re … just rummaging through his life.”
Austin was sentenced to home detention in the bribery case in November and is currently on probation for an unrelated drunken-driving conviction. He declined to comment on the appellate court ruling.
Austin was fired from his job with the Greenfield Police Department shortly after his conviction in the bribery case.
In a closed-door hearing, his superiors argued he not only bribed his fellow officers but violated procedures for using a state database. Austin used the database to look up his ex-wife’s driving status dozens of times, records show.
Police are prohibited from using the database for personal use.
Police Chief John Jester declined to comment.