Former Community Corrections leader speaks out after resignation

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Some three months after leaving his job as the head of Hancock County Community Corrections (HCCC), Wade Kennedy said he wanted to “set the record straight” about why he no longer works for the department. His departure from HCCC came at a time when the program had fallen under scrutiny surrounding the filing of a federal lawsuit against county employees there and the OWI arrest of one of his employees.

While Kennedy’s name is not associated with the federal lawsuit filed in April surrounding unreasonable discrimination based on race brought against three then HCCC employees — field officer Thomas R. Smith, field officer Daniel Devoy and detention coordinator Nicole Raffaelli — as well as the county commissioners, Kennedy said that many people associate his departure with the claim.

Kennedy, who county officials stated at the time resigned from his post in early June following the OWI arrest of one of his employees, said he was forced to resign shortly after that arrest and was told by county commissioner John Jessup that, if he didn’t step down, he would be fired within a few days.

“He told me, ‘Wade, we do not want to fire you, but if you don’t resign and retire, you will be terminated,’” Kennedy said.

While Jessup told the Daily Reporter he would not discuss former employee issues, commissioner Bill Spalding said he was under the understanding that Kennedy resigned because it was clear there needed to be a change in leadership at HCCC following the filing of the federal lawsuit and the OWI arrest of one of his employees.

“I had not had a conversation with Wade before he came to me and said he wanted to resign,” Spalding said. “He was the coach of that team, and things went on inside that department that he was responsible for.”

Kennedy had been the head of HCCC since July 2020 and had remained silent this past spring when word of the federal lawsuit filed claiming racial discrimination became public knowledge. Kennedy, a former 20-year military man, said that when the federal lawsuit became public, county officials told him to keep quiet, so he followed orders.

 Wade Kennedy, the former head of the Hancock County Community Corrections facility, who stepped down following the filing of a racial discrimination federal lawsuit against three employees there and the OWI arrest of one of those employees, shares his views about the incidents. Monday, Sept. 24, 2023. Photo by Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

“I was told not to talk to the media, so I didn’t talk to the media,” Kennedy said.

It was a few weeks after word of the federal lawsuit spread that Smith was arrested and charged with OWI after being at an American Legion Post in Henry County. It was later learned that Kennedy was also at the same Legion post in Henry County and ran into Smith, but did not come with him. Kennedy said that is the reason he was forced to resign — because county officials held him responsible for Smith’s actions that night. Smith was driving a county vehicle during the OWI arrest.

“He (Jessup) said ‘The reason we have to let you go is because you didn’t stop him (Smith) from driving,’” Kennedy said. “The fact of the matter was I wasn’t in the building when Tom Smith left and had no idea how he had gotten there … I had no idea what vehicle he was driving.”

As for the federal lawsuit claiming racial discrimination, Kennedy said he wrote letters of reprimand against the then three employees, Smith, Devoy and Raffaelli. He also put the employees on notice after they had been heard on a recorded voicemail discussing an inmate, Ja’Michael Bryant, 21, Indianapolis, with racially charged, derogatory words.

“We did the letters on all three of the individuals involved and everything was back to the way it was until the evening which would have been the Thursday before leading into Memorial Day,” Kennedy said. “That’s the night Tom Smith got the OWI and where things went wrong for me.”

Kennedy noted he fired Smith the very next day then met with Jessup, who delivered the news that Kennedy was also being let go.

“What aggravates me about this whole thing, when you look at the lawsuit, my name is not even mentioned on it,” Kennedy said. “But, every time something was mentioned about it, it was my picture in the paper.”

Kennedy noted Smith deserved to be fired after the OWI in a county vehicle and that Devoy, who was leaving HCCC anyway via retirement, has moved on to another county job while Raffaelli still has the same position.

“They’re all three named in the lawsuit, and I’m not even named in it, but I’m the only one without a position,” Kennedy said. “At this point, I don’t know what I’m going to do rather than try and tell people I’m not a bad person. I don’t want my name soiled anymore.”

Kennedy’s wife, Elizabeth, noted her husband felt like he was backed into a corner and really didn’t know what to do when told he must resign or be fired.

“They allowed me to resign and retire, but because they made me do it at 60, I fell into a category where now I can’t start receiving my pension until 65,” Kennedy said. “It just keeps seeming like ‘Wade Kennedy’ caused this and the other people in the lawsuit get to continue to work.”

Kennedy said the only thing that went though his mind when faced with termination was if he decided to stay and fight Jessup’s threat of being fired, he would have lost his pension benefits, so he decided to turn in a resignation.

“If I had been fired, I know I would not have gotten my retirement, and I don’t know for certain if I would have gotten my pension,” Kennedy said. “I couldn’t throw away 13 years with the county … I could not afford to fight it and lose.”

Kennedy said that ‘Yes’ he did resign, but he wanted other county officials, particularly the other commissioners, to know the real reason why.

“I don’t know if they know what Jessup said to me,” Kennedy said.

Spalding, who works for the Indiana State Police, noted he’s got officers under him who he is responsible for and that sometimes it’s the person at the top who gets the fallout for what happens in a unit.

“Sometimes they can take your stripes away from you while the guys under you are still troopers,” Spalding said. “These things happen, but I still do not believe he (Kennedy) was forced out. He made that decision voluntarily.”