HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials in Hancock County are now searching for a new leader to run the county’s community corrections program.
This week, the head of Hancock County Community Corrections, Wade Kennedy, officially resigned. The move by Kennedy comes just days after a field officer working for Kennedy was arrested and charged with OWI. The incident comes on the heels of the same officer and two other community corrections employees being named in a racial discrimination lawsuit involving their work at the department.
Thomas R. Smith, III, 52, Knightstown is the field officer who was fired after police stopped him while he was driving under the influence in a company vehicle late last week.
The county’s community corrections program has come under scrutiny following the May 19 filing of a federal lawsuit against Kennedy’s now former department. The lawsuit is against the Hancock County Board of Commissioners and three Hancock County Community Corrections officers — Daniel Devoy, field officer; Thomas R. Smith III, field officer (now fired); and Nicole Raffaelli, detention coordinator.
The federal lawsuit states Ja’Michael Bryant, 21, Indianapolis, a former inmate with the Hancock County Community Corrections program, was subjected to an unlawful and unreasonable discrimination based on his race. He also suffered embarrassment, humiliation, loss of income, and other damages, the lawsuit states.
Kennedy sent county officials a letter earlier this week announcing his departure from community corrections. He had an exit interview Thursday, Hancock County Commissioner President Bill Spalding told the Daily Reporter.
“I can’t say anything further at this time because of the pending litigation,” Spalding said when asked why Kennedy stepped down. Spalding noted the federal lawsuit filed by Bryant against the then three community corrections officers and the county commissioners as reason for not saying more right now.
According to court documents, the federal lawsuit involves a former community corrections inmate, Bryant, who is black. He was convicted of dealing marijuana and sentenced to a year-and-a-half term through the Community Corrections Home Detention Program in November of 2022.
According to the lawsuit, in April, one of the field officers called Bryant, who did not answer the phone. However, the phone did not disconnect and recorded a conversation about Bryant by the three community corrections officers, who court records and the recording indicate degraded Bryant because of his race.
At the time of the lawsuit, Kennedy, who was the head of the county’s community corrections, would not talk about any form of discipline the three community corrections officers were given. However, officials representing the county commissioners sent out a press release that stated, “The Hancock County Board of Commissioners has conducted an investigation of the conversation among three Hancock County Community Correction’s employees concerning Mr. Ja’Michael Bryant. On behalf of Hancock County, The Board is extremely disappointed with, and does not condone the absolute lack of professionalism and thoughtlessness demonstrated by the employees in this profanity laced discussion of Mr. Bryant. Accordingly, the Director of Community Corrections has disciplined the employees pursuant to Hancock County Policy with a Letter of Reprimand for all three employees. This behavior is the antithesis of what is expected of all County employees, and is unacceptable under any circumstances.”
The lawsuit states, “the individual defendants’,” referring to the three community corrections workers, conduct was brought to the attention of Hancock County, which, based on information and belief, has decided to retain the offending employees without discipline or termination.”
Smith however was fired from his position with community corrections after officials learned he was arrested on May 25 in Henry County. He’s been charged with a Class A misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while intoxicated as well as public intoxication, a Class B misdemeanor. He’s also been charged with a Class C driving infraction.
Officials say Smith was pulled over around 9:40 p.m. Thursday, May 25 in the 18 block of Washington Street after officers with the Knightstown Police Department noticed he was driving without his lights on, a probable cause affidavit states. Smith gave the officers reason to suspect he was under the influence. A field text showed he had a BAC of .175, officials stated in the report. Anyone is considered legally drunk when their blood alcohol level is .08 or more.
Smith told officials at the time of his arrest, the car he was driving was a lease for the Hancock County Community Corrections Department, the probable cause states. Officials noted that Kennedy was called to confirm Smith’s employment with Hancock County and asked to come and collect the vehicle Smith was driving.
Smith had his initial appearance in Henry County Circuit Court 3, Friday, May 26, court records state. A $5,000 surety bond and a $450 cash bond were set. He’s due back in court for a pre-trial hearing in mid-July. Court records show bond monies were posted June 2.
As for Kennedy, who was first employed by the county as a jail officer in 2010, he was a case manager for community corrections for several years before being promoted to the head of the department in 2020. Officials had a meeting scheduled late Thursday of this week to discuss plans in moving forward with the community corrections program. The meeting was closed to the public. Spalding noted late Friday afternoon the executive board of the community corrections program determined they will get a search committee together to find Kennedy’s replacement.