The Terre Haute Police Merit Commission will hear from the public regarding a city police sergeant who’s been suspended for more than four dozen days as the result of seven separate incidents from 2007 to 2020.
The Reform Movement of Terre Haute filed a public records request and obtained the paperwork regarding Sgt. Brad Newman — who also is the Vigo County Clerk, having been elected to his second term in November.
The Reform Movement published those records to its social media pages on Sunday. The Tribune-Star subsequently filed its own public records request with the city legal department and received the records on Wednesday.
The Tribune-Star attempted to reach Newman by text, phone and email without success.
The records released by the city show Newman was suspended at different times for departmental violations including using excessive force against a restrained suspect, using a Taser or similar device on a fellow officer, lying to superiors and insubordination.
Newman was recently in the news for a six-day suspension issued in January as a result of a citizen’s complaint about his December 2020 personal Facebook page postings calling for a nuclear attack on China, which Newman said must be held accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Challenged by another poster as to whether he was serious about killing millions of people, Newman responded, “Absolutely! Smoke ‘em.”
As a result of complaints and requests to speak to the merit commission, the panel has reset its monthly meeting to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17, and moved it to the City Hall Courtroom, board attorney Mark Hassler said.
The merit commission is comprised of Curtis Lyles, who was elected by active officers as their representative on the board; Shelva Warner, who was appointed by the City Council; and Jim Walker, who was appointed by the mayor. Lyles is a recent appointment. Warner and Walker have served on the board for several years.
Hassler said he cannot recall more requests by the public to make statements to the merit board about an officer.
The Reform Movement of Terre Haute is calling for Newman’s firing, and it wants the city to explain if Newman is worthy of trust as a police officer, how he was promoted to sergeant in 2019 given his earlier suspensions and whether his record is unusual within the Terre Haute Police Department.
“Sgt. Newman’s lengthy disciplinary record is a prime example of police departments protecting one of their own, at the expense of the community,” said Dominque Morefield of the Reform Movement. “Not only was Brad Newman allowed to continue to hold a gun and a badge after being suspended six times in 10 years, but he was also rewarded with a promotion to sergeant.
“Newman’s hate speech and recently released disciplinary records are indicative of a larger problem that’s been festering in the Terre Haute Police Department for many years. Now it’s up to the Merit Commission to decide whether they will protect the community or not,” Morefield said in an email.
Hassler said the meeting Wednesday was moved to the larger City Hall space due to public interest expressed and to allow for social distancing of those in attendance. The monthly meeting usually occurs in the THPD training room.
Depending upon Wednesday’s audience size, Hassler said, it may be necessary to circulate the public in and out of the courtroom to maintain social distancing during the public comment portion of the meeting. A time limit might also be set for comments due to a time deadline for using the city courtroom, he said.
Hassler said he will be meeting with city officials about having the meeting livestreamed so members of the public who cannot attend can view it in real time.
He was unsure if some method of participation by those watching the livestream will be available.
Merit board members have already received several comments from the public pertaining to Newman, Hassler said. The merit board members can be reached at the following email addresses: Curtis.Lyle@TerreHaute.IN.Gov, Jim.Walker@TerreHaute.IN.Gov, Shelva.Warner@TerreHaute.IN.Gov.
A closed-door meeting of the merit board was conducted Feb. 10.
The purpose of that meeting was to discuss records involving THPD’s promotional testing, scores and data used for employment, which are confidential, and to receive information about an individual’s alleged misconduct. Hassler said he couldn’t comment on the discussion at that meeting, other than to say it complied with the topics allowed in state statute.
Chief’s and attorney’s remarks
Asked about Newman’s record, Police Chief Shawn Keen said Wednesday the merit board only considers disciplinary action from the past two years when considering an officer’s current case before the commission.
THPD’s merit board follows a combination of state and local rules as it considers matters, Hassler said. The merit board’s local rules include a “reckoning period” of two years for disciplinary matters, said Hassler, who has served more than 20 years during different periods as the board attorney.
The rules state that if an officer has more than four suspensions during a two-year reckoning period, that fact can be grounds for termination, Hassler said. Those rules do not mean that the board is prevented from looking at conduct prior to those two years when considering the totality of an issue before the board, he said. The board can also vote to change its own local rules.
In actuality, not all cases of disciplinary action are submitted to the merit board for action. Only suspensions of 10 days or more must be submitted for consideration of approval, denial or modification by the merit commission. However, officers are given the option to appeal any suspension to the merit commission.
In 2017, Newman did appeal a two-day suspension from Chief John Plasse. Through an agreement worked out by Newman’s attorney and the department, the suspension was reduced to one day. The appeal was then withdrawn.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.
Mark Fitton of the Tribune-Star also contributed to this report. He can be reached at 812-231-4333 or email@example.com.