The Elkhart, Indiana, Police Department has long allowed officers with problematic histories to stay on the job or even climb its ranks. Most of its current supervisors have been disciplined, a trove of disciplinary records provided by the city reveal. A fifth have been involved in fatal shootings. (Read our investigation.)
Elkhart Police Department, by the Numbers
- 34: Supervisors from chief down to sergeant
- 28: Have disciplinary records
- 15: Have been suspended
- 7: Have been involved in at least one fatal shooting
- 18: Supervisors with disciplinary records who have been promoted by the current police chief, Ed Windbigler
- 27: Times officer Scott Garvey was disciplined before being promoted to sergeant (11 suspensions, 15 reprimands, one verbal warning)
- 20: The average number of disciplinary cases that police chiefs brought to the city’s oversight board each year from 2006 to 2015
- 0: Disciplinary cases Windbigler brought to the board in his first year as chief (2016)
- 3: Supervisors who have been convicted of crimes during their careers.
Windbigler declined comment. Elkhart’s mayor, Tim Neese, said police work, by its nature, can lead to complaints because officers deal with people in stressful circumstances. Garvey said he has learned from his mistakes, and that he’s a better officer now than when his career started.
Promoted With Disciplinary Records
The 18 supervisors with disciplinary records who have been promoted by Windbigler include:
- Hired in 1997
- Promoted in 2016 from corporal to sergeant
- Suspended once in 2005 for two days
- Reprimanded five times. Once each in 2001, 2003 and 2006, and twice in 2010
- Received written warnings in 2005 and 2008
Dan Jones was promoted in January 2016, during Windbigler’s first month as police chief. Jones had previously received at least seven reprimands or written warnings — and was suspended in 2005 for choking a person during booking, according to a disciplinary letter. “I appreciate your truthfulness and your expressions of remorse for how you performed your job that night,” wrote the police chief at the time. “You were right it was not your, ‘proudest moment.’”
Found at fault in at least four accidents — among them rear-ending a car, hitting a parked car, hitting a utility pole — Jones was once disciplined for how he picked his child up from elementary school, according to his personnel file. In his squad car, Jones entered a drive marked “wrong way,” cut into line, failed to properly secure his child and then, at a pedestrian crossing, failed to stop for a student holding up her stop sign. The police chief at the time made Jones write the school and other parents a letter of apology. Jones did not return a reporter’s calls seeking comment.
- Hired in 1991
- Promoted in 2016 from corporal to assistant chief
- Suspended once in 2007 for five days
- Demoted from lieutenant to corporal in 2013
- Reprimanded seven times. Once each in 1997 and 2001, twice in 2010, and again in 2011, 2012 and 2013
- Received a written admonishment in 1997
- Received a sustained finding of neglect of duty in 2012, but with no discipline issued
In January 2016, during his first week as chief, Windbigler gave a thumbs-up as he posed for a photo with Todd Thayer and three other men Windbigler had selected for top command spots. Windbigler tapped Thayer for assistant chief, the department’s No. 2 position, jumping him four full ranks, up from corporal.
Little more than two years before, Thayer had been demoted two ranks for making “inappropriate comments” about a fatal shooting by police. (He said an officer who opened fire could now check that off his “bucket list,” according to disciplinary records.) For Thayer, that demotion capped a series of disciplinary actions taken against him by three different police chiefs.
In 2007, as a sergeant, Thayer was disciplined for an episode in which police took suggestive photos of a woman waiting in the police station lobby for a ride. A corporal resigned, a safety officer was fired and six other officers, including Thayer, received five-day suspensions. Thayer was faulted for neglect of duty because he failed “to make an official report” of the improper behavior, according to disciplinary records. The police chief ordered him to get ethics training.
Thayer also was reprimanded at least seven times, his personnel file shows. The first, in 1997, was for neglect of duty, for failing to properly document an arrest and file required use-of-force forms. The police chief ordered him to get remedial training. Thayer’s last reprimand, in 2013, was for insubordination. Thayer declined comment for this story.
- Hired in 1996
- Promoted in 2016 from sergeant to lieutenant, the same month Thayer and Jones moved up the ranks
- Suspended three times. Once in 1997 for five days, for one day in 1999, and for one day in 2000
- Received three reprimands. Once each in 2005, 2010 and 2015
In 2004, while a corporal, Ryback shot and killed 50-year-old Stanley Creal. Prosecutors said police were serving a search warrant for evidence of drug dealing when Creal tried to hide in a bedroom. When officers forced open the door, Creal reached for his pocket, and Ryback fired. Police found some cocaine in Creal’s pocket, but no gun. A grand jury reviewed the shooting and declined to indict any officers. A week before the shooting, Ryback made news for using a Taser on an 18-year-old student at Elkhart Memorial High School. Police said the student was resisting another officer who tried to break up a fight.
Twice he’s been ordered to get remedial training, once for “entering a volatile situation [without] anyone knowing where he was or what he was doing,” and the other time for “poor judgement” in bottoming out his squad car while chasing a traffic violator. His last reprimand — issued in October 2015, three months before his promotion to lieutenant — was for “inappropriate” comments and “wrongful behavior” in front of subordinates. Ryback declined comment for this story.