HANCOCK COUNTY — County officials have begun their search for a new leader of the Hancock County Community Corrections program. The move comes after the resignation of Wade Kennedy last week.
A seven-person advisory board has been put together and will be spearheaded by the county’s pretrial release program leader, Wayne Addison. He’ll oversee the committee along with the head of county probation, Josh Sipes, as together they search for new leadership.
The committee held its first meeting Wednesday of this week to discuss which direction the community corrections program needs to go following the filing of a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against three community corrections workers and the county commissioners.
“We want and need to discuss and determine which direction we want to go,” Addison said. “Anytime you’re going through what we’re going through and replacing someone, you have to look at where you are and where you should be and how you can get there.”
The county’s community corrections program is under pressure following the filing of the lawsuit in May by Ja’Michael Bryant, a former community corrections inmate. Two of the three officers named in the lawsuit who are accused of using racial slurs and treating Bryant unfairly due to his skin color no longer work for community corrections.
Thomas R. Smith III, a former field officer was fired last week after he was arrested in Knightstown for an OWI charge. Daniel Devoy, also a former field officer, resigned following the filing of the federal lawsuit. The other person named in the lawsuit, Nicole Raffaelli, the detention coordinator, is still listed as working for community corrections.
Kennedy turned in his letter of resignation last week following the OWI arrest of Smith. At the time the federal lawsuit was filed, Kennedy would not talk about any form of discipline the three community corrections officers were given after a recording surfaced of the three county employees degrading Bryant.
The seven-person committee selected to hire Kennedy’s replacement will also try to change the negative image of the program. The group includes, Addison, Sipes, Hancock County Circuit Court Judge Scott Sirk, prosecutor Brent Eaton, county public defender Jeremy Teipen, longtime family law attorney Lyn O’Neal and Community Health Network’s Tondra Crum, who works with rehabilitation.
“I really do think we have a strong group and a good group of people,” Addison said. “One of our first tasks will be to determine what kind of person we want to lead the program.”
Sirk noted he’s looking forward to being part of the committee and to help select a strong, positive leader who wants to work properly with all inmates to help them improve their lives.
“We are going to improve from this disappointment and offer Hancock County citizens the professionalism they deserve from their local government,” Sirk said.
Addison noted while there is no timeline, he’d like to see the committee start making some decisions and get the position filled as soon as possible.
“We’re not going to rush into anything,” Addison said. “The program is running and we’re righting the ship and trying to move forward with proper protocol in place.”
The deputy director of the program is Kelly Perry. She’s currently handling the day-to-day operations for community corrections until a new department head is hired. Addison, as the advisory board chair, and Sipes, as the vice chair, will step in and handle any kind of executive decisions until Kennedy’s replacement is found.
Addison has over 40 years of experience working in probation and the corrections system. He noted that, as a group in charge of overseeing others, the roles are to help people right their mistakes and not degrade or keep people from trying to make their lives better.
“Our jobs as probation officers and community corrections officers is to try and help people become better and that means we treat people with respect and dignity,” Addison said. “We want to make sure that is being done and we’re going to do what is best for the program.”
The lawsuit stated when it was filed in mid-May that, “the individual defendants’ conduct was brought to the attention of Hancock County, who, based on information and belief, decided to retain the offending employees without discipline or termination.”
Bryant, 21, Indianapolis, is a former inmate with the county’s community corrections program and was subjected to an unlawful and unreasonable discrimination based on his race, the lawsuit states. He also suffered embarrassment, humiliation, loss of income, and other damages, his representatives noted.
The civil case was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and is is based on a voicemail. The lawsuit alleges racial discrimination and the violation of Bryant’s civil rights and outlines months of verbal abuse by officials in the Hancock County Community Corrections program.
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. According to the audio, as well as the court documents, in the three-minute recording the three county workers are heard talking to each other about Bryant.
Devoy is identified by court documents as saying in the voicemail, “I’m like, wait a minute; I’m talking to him, and I was like ‘hey, and he’s like … uh, let me call you back I’m in the phone,’ and I’m running him and I’m like, ‘you lazy mother**cker, you haven’t left your house.’”
Devoy is identified as saying, “Yeah, and it is, and that pissed me off, so I want to go see his ass; wake him the **ck up.”
Smith is heard saying, “Remember, Nicole, when we moved him out of the hood? Look at that house.” Raffaelli states, “that’s too nice for him…” Rafaelli is also heard calling Bryant a “little thuggy.” Devoy then says, according to the lawsuit, “And he’s got water in the back yard… **ck this mother**cker’s black *ss.” Smith then adds, “Little mother**cker.”
Addison says the committee will create a list of what they want, start accepting resumes, conduct interviews and then have a board recommendation that will be sent the the commissioners for their approval.
“It is ultimately going to be their decision,” Addison said.
When asked how the committee can change the image of the program, which has been severely tarnished, Addison noted the work he and the others on the committee have done in the county for decades proves they care about all citizens.
“I know community corrections does have some good employees, but when mistakes are made, you’ve got to correct them, and that’s what we are going to do,” Addison said.