Civil suits lead to federal investigations of excessive force within the Muncie Police Department

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MUNCIE, Ind., — The saga of civil lawsuits filed against the city of Muncie and the police department continues. Over the past two years, more than half of a dozen have been filed leading to officers being federally indicted.

This now raises the question, if more civil suits are filed, could this impact federal charges?

In March, three Muncie police officers–Chase Winkle, Jeremy Gibson and Sgt. Joe Kresja–were federally indicted for alleged excessive force and their attempt to cover it up in arrests from March 2018 to February 2019. The charges of deprivation of rights and falsifying reports were filed in the Southern District of Indiana by U.S. Attorney Josh Minkler.

When former Public Information Officer Chase Winkle walked out of federal court with his father, former police Chief Joe Winkle, our cameras were rolling. Reporter Darius Johnson asked Joe Winkle if he was aware that any of this was happening under his jurisdiction. He said, “I don’t have any comment, Darius.”

A separate civil lawsuit filed in May names those officers and five more, the former chief Joe Winkle and the city. It’s one of six civil lawsuits filed against Muncie police within the last two years.

  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018 x 2
  • Aug 2018
  • Feb 2019
  • March 2020 (Federal Investigation launched)
  • May 2020 

“Well, I think at this point in time you can say what it shows is again that various members of the Muncie community have soft redress through the court system,” said Rob King, an attorney with Rob King and Associates.

King represents multiple plaintiffs in numerous civil suits alleging excessive force against Muncie police.

Former federal agent Kathy Guider says this is still a small number of allegations compared to the number of arrests made. 

“To only have four or five maybe that have gone onto to lawsuits that’s a very low number of their actual number of cases. Does that mean we disregard them no, totally not! They need to be investigated,” said Kathy Guider, vice president of operations at Veracity IIR.

Emanuel Montero filed a lawsuit after a May 2018 traffic stop alleging officers punched, kicked and struck him multiple times with a Taser and a baton, breaking three ribs. Montero’s attorneys, Bradley Keefer and Austin Andreas, say “medical professionals were concerned he may lose his eye.”

“They are similar in terms of the nature and extent of the harm that is being alleged,” said King.

King is talking about his client Jesse Vernon, who filed a lawsuit after his 2018 arrest. Vernon was initially stopped for riding a bike without proper lighting.

Body camera footage we obtained last year shows a scuffle between Vernon, officers Chase Winkle and Chase Hunter as they tried to arrest him.

The lawsuit claims during the scuffle Winkle threw Jesse on the ground, beat him and tased him repeatedly. It also says Hunter participated. King says his client suffered several injuries.

Guider says these videos don’t provide the same perspective when officers are in the heat of the moment.

“It’s a different mindset when you’re the one out on the street and when somebody starts to resist that cranks your adrenaline up. And your actions and your thought processes start to change,” said Guider.

Delaware County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Hoffman says state or federal criminal charges against officers create a lot of issues with perception.

“We’ve gone back and gone through and we’re in the process of looking at each of the cases where the officers were involved,” said Hoffman.

It’s the goal of pursuing justice whether that means a conviction or dismissal. 

“Despite the pending allegations and the pending cases I do not think it is reflective of the Muncie Police Department as a whole nor do I think it’s reflective of law enforcement as a whole,” said Hoffman.

Muncie police were not willing to provide the photos of the other five officers named in the civil suit and the former chief. They said they are following the guidance of their legal team at this time.

The civil trials and the federal trial are set for 2021. 

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