Scott Tibbs
Published by Hoosier Review, 11-19-2002

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Just the facts, please

Scott Wells' drunk-driving arrest spurs memories of President Clinton's impeachment

On September 27th, Scott Wells, a Democrat County Council member elected at-large in 2000, was arrested after an incident with the Indiana State Police regarding accusations of drunken driving. Earlier this week, six charges were filed against Wells, including one charge of felony battery on a police officer.

The circumstances of Wells' arrest quickly became fodder for political discussion in the Herald-Times, Indiana Daily Student and on Hoosier Talk, the discussion board run by the Herald-Times.

Wells and his supporters allege that he was "set up" by Republican Sheriff candidate J.D. Maxwell. The facts in the case were that local realtors and Republican supporters Bud and Amy Bernitt called Maxwell at home after they observed someone walking and driving in an intoxicated manner. Maxwell called the state police post, which dispatched an officer to investigate the matter. It isn't unusual for state police to make arrests inside city limits, where they share jurisdiction with the Bloomington City Police and the Monroe County Sheriff's Department.

One question that arises is why the Bernitts called Maxwell instead of the police. While that question hasn't been answered in the published reports on the matter, it's entirely possible that they were seeking advice on what to do from a police officer they knew and trusted. Once Maxwell received the call, he did the only thing he could have done, which is call on-duty police officers to deal with the matter. Had Maxwell not called the police, he would have been shirking his duty as a police officer even though he was off-duty at the time. It's also natural that he would call the people he knows, trusts and works with at the Indiana State Police.

Much discussion has taken place over the fact that it was the Bernitts that gave Maxwell the tip. The H-T Editorial Board wondered on November 16th if Wells was "followed and targeted". There is no evidence to suggest that the Bernitts "followed or targeted" Wells, and it is irresponsible for the H-T to make that accusation based on nothing but pure speculation. However, local independent journalist and environmental activist Steve Higgs reported in an article on that "One reason (Wells) goes to the Crazy Horse is that local Republicans, including County Council candidate Trent Jones, drink there. Wells says he likes to keep an eye on them and see what he can pick up." It will be interesting to see whether the H-T picks up on this contradiction.

Even if the Bernitts followed Wells, does that exonerate him if he was driving drunk and if he did indeed assault a police officer? Of course not. If Wells is guilty of the crimes he is charged with, the person who made the tip, and any political disagreements he has with Wells, is irrelevant.

It is important to note that the special prosecutor that has been charged with bias against Wells did not file charges or release the police report (which was very damaging to Wells when it was detailed in the Herald-Times) until after the election. The charges and the police report could have damaged the Democrats and helped shield Maxwell from some of the criticism directed at him had it come out two weeks earlier, especially since Maxwell was ordered by the State Police to not comment on the matter. There is no reason to believe that this was intentional, but if this was a political witch-hunt, isn't it logical that the report would have been rushed to the newspapers in hopes of impacting the election?

Four years ago, when disgraced former President Clinton was impeached, it set off a divisive cascade of partisan rhetoric that divided the county and resulted in despicable personal attacks by the likes of pornographer Larry Flynt against those who supported impeachment. We should hope that the Scott Wells case does not cause local politics to degenerate to the level national politics did in late 1998 and early 1999. Whether Wells is guilty or not should be a matter for a court of law to decide, not an opportunity for political gamesmanship for either Democrats or Republicans.