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Judge upholds firing of deputy

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GREENFIELD — Hancock County’s sheriff’s merit board was justified in firing a deputy accused of threatening to kill his girlfriend, a Henry County judge ruled Wednesday.

Ex-Hancock County Sheriff’s Deputy Jake Smith, 28, of Knightstown, was fired in March after he was accused of making threats to a former girlfriend, some of which occurred while on duty. He was also criminally charged and pleaded guilty to harassment, a misdemeanor. In return, the remaining charges against him, a misdemeanor charge of intimidation and a felony charge of official misconduct, were dropped.

Following the merit board’s decision to fire him, Smith, a road deputy and K9 handler, sued the county in order to appeal the decision, arguing the proceedings were handled unfairly.

Smith’s chief complaint was that he was unable to participate in his own defense because there was a criminal case pending against him at the time of the termination hearing.

Smith voluntarily left the proceedings after his attorney informed the merit board Smith would not consent to be interviewed on the stand about his behavior.

But Henry County Circuit Judge Mary Willis, who reviewed records from the hearing, upheld the board’s decision to fire Smith, court records show.

Hancock County Sheriff Mike Shepherd said he could not comment in detail about the judge’s ruling but did say it did not come as a surprise. In fact, the sheriff’s department opted not to keep Smith’s position as a road officer open while waiting to hear the outcome of his appeal.

“We have moved on and filled the position,” Shepherd said.

Smith’s attorney, Ed Merchant, also declined to comment Wednesday, saying he had not yet read the judge’s ruling.

Shepherd stands by his recommendation that the board fire Smith, based not only on the most current allegations but previous ones in his personnel file.

“He had been disciplined twice before on the … pretty much same thing, and this time he was doing it while on duty,” Shepherd said.

Greenfield police were called to Smith’s ex-girlfriend’s home on Feb. 2 after she reported that Smith had followed her from work to a local restaurant and then began sending threatening messages because she had a male co-worker in the car with her.

While officers were still at the woman’s home, Smith called again, and the ex-girlfriend put the call on speaker phone so officers could listen in, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Police recorded that call and one that followed it after the woman hung up on Smith. Those calls came from Smith while the officer was on duty, prompting the official misconduct charge, according to court documents.

The woman also told officers that she had recently attended a college class and left her cellphone at home. When she returned, she said, she had 48 missed calls and texts from Smith.

Over a 7-week period, investigators traced 3,208 text messages and 164 phone calls from Smith to his ex-girlfriend, court records state.

In one phone call, Smith said he was going to “come to her apartment and take care of her and then drive himself to jail,” which officers took as a direct threat on the woman’s life, Hancock County Prosecutor Michael Griffin said when charges were filed.

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