Editorial Roundup: Indiana

Posted

KPC News. Feb. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Lawmakers should abandon micromanaging prosecutors

In the latest episode of “pro-local-control” lawmakers doing the exact opposite, Indiana senators advanced a bill that would allow the Indiana attorney general to go over the heads of local prosecutors.

Senate Bill 200, authored by Sen. Mike Young, R-Indianapolis, “permits the attorney general to request the appointment of a special prosecuting attorney if a prosecuting attorney is categorically refusing to prosecute certain crimes.”

Although Young will claim otherwise, most people recognize the bill was filed primarily to try to overrule Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears’ decision to no longer prosecute people for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

That policy does not prevent prosecutions for larger amounts, dealing or other charges like driving while intoxicated.

While some states are legalizing recreational use of marijuana outright — with Virginia poised to maybe become the next — other states or localities have moved to reduce or even eliminate penalties on small-time users.

Indiana, as it usually does, is moving in a regressive fashion on those progressive policies.

Minorities are disproportionately charged with marijuana offenses — Black Americans are more than three times as likely to be arrested for marijuana use than white Americans, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at nearly equal rates.

Possession of marijuana less than 30 grams, the type of charge Marion County isn’t focusing on, is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $5,000.

Those cases take up as much time on the court calendar and in the prosecutor’s workload but typically end up with little punishment and more burden to the community corrections and probation departments, as well as financial burden on offenders.

In the interest of equity, effort and time, Marion County decided to de-emphasize minor marijuana charges.

All prosecutors have discretion to charge what they want and at what level they feel rises to the circumstances and their ability to prove in court. Prosecutors may have different opinions and attitudes about certain types of crimes, being more lenient on some while going after others harder. Like any job, prosecutors have limited staff and time and aim to do the most public good with the resources available.

First, Young’s bill aims to essentially overrule local prosecutorial discretion at the whim of the attorney general’s office.

Second, it overrules the will of voters who choose who to elect or not into the prosecutor’s office every four years.

Mears was elected into the prosecutor’s office in Indianapolis because a majority of the voters in the city agreed with his vision of enforcing the law more so than the other guy. If Indianapolis residents think marijuana should be prosecuted more harshly, they’ll have plenty of opportunity to voice that opinion the next time elections come up.

And third, it’s a waste of resources. How many people and how much money is the Indiana attorney general likely to spend hiring special prosecutors to go after people carrying a couple joints to land a sentence that’s likely to include probation, some fines and maybe a weekend in jail?

Nationally, 67% of Americans believe marijuana should be decriminalized, according to a 2019 poll by the Pew Research Center. That’s been a majority position since around 2010, a decade ago.

Indiana lawmakers should oppose efforts to strip local control from prosecutors and reject attempts to cling to unequal legal enforcement of a crime that most Americans don’t even believe should be a crime any longer.

We encourage our local Reps. Dave Abbott, Ben Smaltz and Denny Zent to reject SB 200 when it arrives for debate in the House.

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Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Feb. 28, 2021.

Editorial: Allegations of bias call for intense scrutiny

The details are nightmarish.

A white man shot three young Black men – two fatally – on the city’s north side Feb. 18, Fort Wayne police say. The white man had argued with the young men at a gas station before leaving the business, going home, returning and firing shots from a handgun into a car, investigators have said.

Anderson Retic, 19, Joshua Cole Cooper, 19, and Jaylin Rice, 20, tried to escape by driving away from the gas station, and Joseph Bossard followed in his pickup, court documents filed last week in Allen Superior Court allege. A blue Hyundai Sonata was found crashed on Hobson Road, shell casings nearby.

Retic and Cooper were killed. Rice was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Bossard, 32, is charged with two counts of murder, attempted murder, aggravated battery, criminal recklessness and using a gun to commit the crimes – charges that would likely keep him behind bars for the rest of his life if he is convicted.

It’s clear such awful attacks deeply affect our community.

Demonstrators gathered outside the Allen County Courthouse Tuesday, and a vigil took place Thursday to mourn Retic and Cooper. ChangeMakers, an area social justice group, has also suggested the shootings were hate crimes and is pushing officials to prosecute the case to the fullest extent under the law.

Allen County prosecutors are doing what they can, but Indiana lacks a strong hate crimes law. A bias crimes statute put in place in 2019 allows judges to impose longer sentences for such crimes, but it does not allow for tougher charges.

The charges against Bossard carry a maximum penalty of more than 200 years behind bars. Indiana law requires those convicted of serious crimes to serve 75% of their sentences.

Michael McAlexander, the county’s chief deputy prosecutor, said he can’t comment on the case but confirmed his office is investigating whether race was a factor. Details likely would surface at trial, which could be scheduled in a hearing March 10.

Formal charges against Bossard were filed Tuesday, a day before another man – Levi Arnold, 22 – pleaded guilty in a separate killing that stoked concerns of racial motivation.

Arnold, who is white, beat DeMarcus Walker, 44, who was Black, last year with a baseball bat outside a Fort Wayne Walmart; Walker later died. Witnesses told police the beating stopped only after a bystander with a gun intervened.

Arnold, who was arrested at his home in Bluffton after fleeing, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to murder and resisting law enforcement, and a plea agreement calls for him to spend 51-1/2 years behind bars. Other charges including attempted murder likely will be dismissed at an April 19 sentencing hearing.

Walker’s family has alleged the brutal attack was racially motivated.

The guilty but mentally ill plea means Arnold can receive mental health treatment in prison.

Victims of such horrific crimes deserve justice and these types of cases deserve special attention, even without a stronger state hate crimes law. Harsh penalties may not deter all racially motivated attacks, but a message such crimes won’t be tolerated here is the least Fort Wayne residents deserve.

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Feb. 26, 2021.

Editorial: Caution must accompany move to in-person learning. Extending vaccinations to teachers would aid cause

Most Vigo Countians want to see the full number of young people attending school in-person.

That once-routine situation would amount to a signal that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is over.

But the worst public health crisis in a century is not over, yet.

So, the Vigo County School Corp.‘s decision to expand in-person learning for middle and high school students to four days per week — Tuesdays through Fridays — seems proportional and wise, for now. Students will continue remote learning on Mondays, and the VCSC will also conduct contact tracing that day. The revised plan begins Tuesday, after the School Board approved the change Monday night.

Vigo middle and high schools have been operating with e-learning on Mondays, followed by students attending in-person in split groups on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Wednesdays and Fridays. Given the spike in COVID-19 cases locally and statewide during this difficult winter, that VCSC plan made sense. It helped limit spread of the virus, protecting teachers, staff and students.

Hospitalizations from the disease have declined in the county in recent weeks, and remained lower. The numbers show the county is ready to increase students’ in-person attendance, explained Karen Goeller, the VCSC deputy superintendent. A pediatrician and the heads of the county’s emergency management and health departments endorsed the move.

Along with that support, County Health Commissioner Dr. Darren Brucken added an important point. Added in-person learning works “if things hold,” Brucken said Monday. Health officials “will continue to watch the numbers,” he said. “We continue to watch the trends.”

Such caution and vigilance must drive decisions on the extent of in-person learning in the schools, until COVID-19 is under control.

VCSC administrators see evidence from surrounding districts that community spread primarily drives virus cases, rather than through school settings. Still, VCSC communications director Bill Riley said, “We’re stepping into this very cautiously.” The case numbers will be watched closely, and schools could return to remote learning if infections and quarantines leave insufficient staffing availability.

That caveat should remain an option.

Teachers and staff remain vulnerable, given the close proximity of in-person class settings. Ideally, the schools’ strict adherence to face masking, social distancing and hygiene protocols will stave off infections. But the local schools have maintained the low case numbers while attendance has been on the alternating A/B schedule, four days a week. Next week, class sizes will return to near normal.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and his coronavirus policy team should consider adding teachers and school staff to the state’s priority list for COVID-19 vaccinations. The Vigo County School Board unanimously passed a resolution Monday calling for Holcomb to do so. But in his weekly COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday, the governor and State Health Commissioner Kris Box stood by their age-based plan for vaccination eligibility.

State leaders say they want the schools to reopen, in-person. Vigo County is taking a step toward that goal. Without vaccinated teachers, expanded face-to-face learning must happen cautiously, with an option to go remote at the ready — just as the VCSC is doing.

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