GREENFIELD — Whether Hancock County Coroner Tamara Vangundy should remain in office now lies in the hands of a special prosecutor.
Vangundy is accused of being impaired at the scene of a death investigation and is facing a felony charge of official misconduct and misdemeanor charges of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
When Vangundy did not voluntarily step down last week, Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin, who is also the county Republican Party chair, was adamant about going forward with a petition to have her forced out of office, citing a statute that prohibits officeholders from becoming intoxicated during the hours of their office.
Griffin said he reached that conclusion after conferring with other officeholders and Republican Party members, all of whom, Griffin said, agreed Vangundy had violated the public trust too severely to remain in office.
Griffin sent Vangundy a notice May 23 and gave her until May 31 to step down before he said he would ask a judge to have her removed. On the morning of June 1, Griffin told the Daily Reporter he expected to move forward with filing the petition and wanted to confer with Special Prosecutor John McKay of Madison County, who is handling the criminal case.
One of Vangundy’s attorneys, Bob Elsea of Greenfield, questioned whether Griffin could legally ask for Vangundy’s removal after having handed the criminal case over to McKay. Vangundy has since hired attorney Carl Brizzi of Indianapolis to represent her. Brizzi could not be reached for comment Monday.
After speaking to the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council that Friday afternoon and then conferring with McKay, Griffin ultimately decided to cede his rights to oversee the civil matter of removing Vangundy from office.
“… The set of facts or circumstances … could be a basis for the prosecuting attorney to file a civil action,” Griffin wrote in a motion to Hancock Circuit Court, dated last Thursday. “The prosecuting attorney believes, after reasonable opportunity for review of his jurisdiction …that administering his civil jurisdiction … could have the appearance of impropriety.”
Griffin said he still believes that legally, he could file the petition to have Vangundy removed.
“As a legal matter, no doubt, I had jurisdiction, but the question is, how does administering the civil case affect the criminal case?” Griffin said. “And the bottom line, for me, is how do I protect the criminal case?”
Last week, Brizzi balked at the notion the statute that calls for ousting officeholders who become intoxicated in the hours of their office should include Vangundy, who is on call 24 hours a day.
The statute, Brizzi said, is being interpreted too harshly.
Vangundy has deputy coroners who can take cases if she is unavailable, and that is what should have happened the night of her arrest, Griffin said.
“What this comes down to is a failure to adopt an on-call rotation,” he said. “When you have a process where you are the one called first, every single time, you’ve left yourself open to risk that you may not be prepared to take that call.”
Griffin said McKay did not confirm whether he planned to go forward with filing the petition.
“He knows my position, and it’ll be up to him to decide whether he wants to pursue that,” Griffin said. “There’s no question what I think, but the whole purpose of getting a special prosecutor is so someone else can make that choice.”
John McKay did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile, Vangundy, who ran, unopposed, in the May primary, remains on the November ballot as the Republican Party’s nominee for coroner.
Dan Devoy, the former deputy coroner who lost to Vangundy four years ago, has announced his plans to run as an Independent and is garnering support from the Republican Party.
Crystel Myers, a Democrat, has also been slated to the ballot.