New Haven police chief responds to questions, issues surrounding Gardner assault case

| June 19, 2017

NEW HAVEN, Ind.—New Haven Chief Henry D. McKinnon said that despite the impression that is circulating on social media regarding the recent assault on 15-year-old Jason Gardner, his department has been working continuously and diligently on the case. But, as he explained, the department is proceeding cautiously to ensure that justice is served on the victim’s behalf.

“When the officer got called out they found the young man did have some injuries and was in and out of consciousness. The assault did happen. That’s a no brainer,” said McKinnon.

Successfully prosecuting the case, however, takes careful and accurate police work he said.

For example, explained McKinnon, officers did work with the young victim immediately on the scene to try to identify his assailant. He said Jason Gardner told them a name of an assailant that he said he didn’t see but recognized by voice.

According to McKinnon, police immediately went to the possible suspects home and read him his Miranda rights. Officers, however, didn’t make an arrest at the time for a number of reasons, he said.

For one, the person being investigated had a witness who gave him an alibi for the time which the assault was committed. Second, the person showed no signs of injuries or a scuffle. Rather than to risk ultimately losing the case, officers opted to investigate further and pursue additional evidence. McKinnon said they asked the person to come in and volunteer to take a voice stress test so they could have something to back them up in assessing the possible suspects veracity. The person didn’t come in so after two days, New Haven police officials decided to send the case to the county juvenile prosecutor with what they had.

“It’s not uncommon for a prosecutor to say, ‘I will consider it but I’m giving a supplement request. I want you to find out A, B and C,’ which is what happened Friday (June 9),” explained McKinnon.

Adding that the requested information gathering was beyond the capabilities of a regular patrol officer and assigned the case two one of the department’s two detectives, who immediately started to work on the case. Unfortunately, said McKinnon, progress on the case slowed on Monday by two armed in New Haven on June 12, n which detectives had to spend the entire day working.

The detective on the case, however, put in extra work to wrap up details and the case has been sent to juvenile prosecutor officers.

“I didn’t have to tell him to do it,” said the chief. “He volunteered and stayed all night to get it wrapped up.”

Again, refuting the perception being spread by social media, McKinnon said, “there was never a case when the police were not investigating this.

“And I understand [the frustration] from the victim’s standpoint and you don’t understand the system,” and how things can seem to be progressing very slowly or not at all.

He said the department had been working with the Gardner family to try to keep them informed and to assure them the New Haven Police Department was aggressively pursue the matter, adding that the deputy chief of police spent a couple of hours working with the mother, Lakysha Gardner, a fact which Gardner herself confirmed during an interview with Frost Illustrated.

McKinnon said his officers and detectives made some wise decisions in pursuing the case to ensure a successful prosecution is made.

“It’s not rocket science to put handcuffs on someone and take them to jail but you’re doing a disservice to the victim if you don’t get details,” he said, explaining that inaccurate or missing information can doom a case forever. “If we just send that down like that and it’s declined, then it’s done.”

While police can operate on investigations with “probable cause” prosecutors, he said, are looking for evidence “beyond reasonable doubt.”

For police to submit a case without trying to get the best information is poor work, said McKinnon.

“That would be almost lazy. You’ not doing everything you can do,” he said.

He said the department has sent a host of evidence and information to the juvenile prosecutor.

“We have included every single officer’s car camera. All that is with the prosecutor too,” he said.

McKinnon also addressed the social media buzz about a rope and a possible lynching.

“That night (of the assault), we have numerous pictures of the victim. Nothing that night or the following day was mentioned about a rope from the victim and the victim’s family,” he said.

The Gardner family told Frost the rope was found a few days afterwards and showed a light colored mark on the back of Jason’s neck a week after the incident.

McKinnon himself pointed out that as in many domestic abuse cases, physical evidence of aspects of an assault might not show up immediately but reiterated that neither Jason nor family members said anything about a rope during the investigation. The story, he said, showed up on social media and “has just grown a life of it’s own.”

McKinnon also pointed out that local youth new about the rope for some time for a different reason.

“That rope had been there for years for climbing,” said McKinnon.

Still, he said the department will pursue the issue.

“Since it’s out there, I have to follow up and ask the victims about that,” he said.

Interestingly, the image of the rope has been used to fuel call for rallies and protest.

“There’s a picture of  a rope and that has nothing to do with that. The victims themselves never told me they were injured with the rope. There’s no evidence from the victim or the victim’s family,” said McKinnon.

He said the department also was serious about looking into the “attempted lynching” stories because of an earlier lynching threat involving threats to the Gardner/Ball family. Someone told the family that a person known to them had made a threat to lynch a family member.

“An officer did take that report and that would have been in May. The officer took that report and went straight to the horse’s mouth and the witness then denied telling the victim that. At that point you have two teenagers and one wants to fight the other and that’s not an uncommon thing,” said McKinnon.

As for the complaints levied by the Gardner/Ball family against an Officer Anderson,  McKinnon said that has been discussed with Lakysha Gardner.

“She did talk to the deputy chief and she has every right to do that. And, we have offered to help her fill out a formal complaint form,” he said.

Once that paperwork has been completed, he said and investigation into that complaint would proceed.

“I would then request for the county or state to do that internal investigation,” said McKinnon, explaining that using an outside agency to investigate and internal complaint would ensure transparency.

As for the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice being asked to come in, McKinnon said he talked with NAACP President Larry Gist, who called the agency and told him that was an appropriate move.

“I told r. Gist that decision was absolutely right. Indiana does not have a hate crime law,” so any investigation or charges along those lines would have to come from the DOJ.

McKinnon said he has talked to DOJ officials since they have been called but, to date, not much specifically about the case.

“Most [conversations] were in reference to concerns about the rally and safety and security,” said the chief.

“I don’t know of this department being under investigation,” he said regarding other potential DOJ concerns.

“None of us are perfect including me and my officers. I know my guys and gals. I know their hearts and they do do a good job,” said McKinnon.

Still, recent events have taught him a few things, he said.

For example, all the Facebook hubbub about the case has prompted him to sign up for some social media seminars and to work toward the New Haven Police Department  being more involved with the community in that way.

“By the end of the year, we’re going to have a Facebook page up so that we can put up some facts that aren’t out there. Or at least, to put a different opinion out there. Not for back and forth,” he said.

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Category: Civil Rights, Community, Crime & Safety, Local

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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