Merit commission, chief discuss how discipline is issued

Lisa Trigg, The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
·3 min read

Mar. 18—A monthly report on the close supervision of a Terre Haute Police sergeant who has been the focus of public anger due to social media posts revealed "nothing negative" in the past month, the Terre Haute Police Merit Commission said Wednesday.

While the report about Sgt. Bradley Newman was deemed confidential, commission members Jim Walker, Curtis Lyle and Shelva Warner all said they had reviewed the report.

"There was nothing negative. It was all positive in the report," Walker said of the communication from Capt. Jason Brentlinger, who is Newman's supervisor.

Newman was issued a six-day suspension 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 he said must be held accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic. He has served the and serving six months with additional supervision and training. That lasts into July.

Some members of the public in February asked the merit board in February to fire Newman. While no specific mention of Newman was made Wednesday by people who questioned the merit board in a friendly discussion, the talk about officer conduct and discipline had an obvious reference to Newman's previous seven suspensions from 2007 to 2020.

Police Chief Shawn Keen explained, as he did in February, that officers have a right to due process.

"We look at prior discipline, and some things may disgust us," Chief Shawn Keen said. "I do not agree with any of the [social media] posts that were created. And even if I find prior conduct that happened 14 or 15 years ago reprehensible ... and something that today I would recommend a termination for, my argument has always been I still have to follow the law and I have to follow those rules. Because if I ignore those rules, then I throw all my values out the window."

Keen said he would recommend termination for any officer found to have lied or to have kicked someone who is handcuffed using examples of incidents in Newman's record.

Keen said while he does not agree with the discipline Newman received for prior conduct, he also could not "agree with breaking the law or breaking the rules as a fix to those problems."

Board attorney Mark Hassler also pointed out Chief Keen was not responsible for the discipline that was handed down to Newman in prior incidents.

In fact, Hassler said, Keen has recommended termination of three officers in the past 18 months for incidents including lying. In each case, the officer has resigned before the merit board could act.

"If several of these (earlier) things had occurred under [Keen's] watch, there would have been a request for termination," Hassler said.

Hassler and Walker met with four citizens last week to continue a discussion about the merit board's function

Ten private citizens attended Wednesday's meeting, relocated to the community room of the Booker T. Washington Community Center to allow for a larger audience than the past meeting space at the THPD station. The meetings will remain at the community center until a meeting room becomes available at the coming THPD station now being renovated on South Seventh Street.

In other business, the board approved a request from Chief Keen to make permanent four sergeant promotions that have been probationary for the past year.

Ryan Adamson, Scott Marshall, David Rafter and Jesse Chambers have successfully completed a probationary year as sergeant, Keen said.

The board learned testing for new police officer applicants is set for May 16, while exams for promotions of current officers will be given May 4.

The next regular meeting of the board is set for April 21 at the community center.

Once the new police station opens on south Seventh Street, the meetings will be conducted in a room at that building.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.