WARSAW – New audio that appeared on the Warsaw city website Saturday, March 2, sheds new light from the perspective of an elderly couple caught up in the middle of an investigation by Police Chief Scott Whitaker who had been off duty at the time and later apologized over the circumstances.
In the 10-minute audio captured by City Councilman Michael Klondaris, the 74-year-old man is heard claiming the chief “tackled” or “wrestled me down” as he attempted to park his car in the couple’s garage following a reckless driving investigation Jan. 25.
That version contrasts with Whitaker’s police report in which he contends he grabbed the man from behind by both shoulders to maneuver him over to the hood as the man appeared to be getting into his car. At that point, the report said the man’s legs gave out, he fell to his knees and that Whitaker “assisted him to the ground.”
Whitaker took the action under the belief the man might have been intoxicated and had been driving a blue Honda that nearly hit Whitaker and other vehicles head-on.
At the end of the investigation, it was determined the man’s wife had been driving the vehicle in question, and that she struggles with nighttime driving.
Nobody was arrested and the couple did not file a complaint over how the incident was handled.
Klondaris, along with City Councilman Jack Wilhite, sought out the couple after being told Whitaker may have acted inappropriately as he investigated what appeared to be an impaired driver on CR 200S. The audio interview was conducted in early February. Klondaris then met with Mayor Joe Thallemer the following day to inform him of the allegations and let him hear the tape.
Thallemer then sought a review of the incident by Indiana State Police, which concluded Whitaker’s actions during the incident did not merit criminal charges.
However, two unidentified Warsaw Police officers have been placed on investigatory leave as the city looks into whether they acted improperly after responding to the incident.
Klondaris’ audio is now part of a collection of items – including three body cam videos – posted on the city website in an attempt to give the public a better understanding of what happened that night on Chickadee Lane near CR 200S.
Whitaker reported he had been surveilling the driver from a distance after he was nearly run off the road by the vehicle. He then drove up to the couple’s home after the driver had exited, and a man could be seen walking toward the car seeking to get back into the running vehicle.
On the tape, the man says the incident began “all of the sudden, out of nowhere, it seems.”
In describing the confrontation, the man tells Klondaris: “I don’t want to use the wrong words, but “he tackled me or wrestled me down.”
On the tape, the man says Whitaker said nothing prior to the initial interaction.
“It was shortly thereafter I was down on the ground and he said ‘you’re not gonna get in the car again,’“ the man tells Klondaris
“He told me shortly after that he was the police chief,” the man says.
His wife’s version of the events differs slightly in terms of when Whitaker identified himself. On the audio, the woman says she did not hear the entire exchange that her husband had with the chief.
On the audio, she says:
“When he pulled in, he came in like a crazy person. I had no idea who the hell it was. He was in a black van or SUV, I’m not sure. And he said to me as he was getting out of the truck or whatever, he said, “I’m the chief of police of Warsaw,” and I said ‘Oh, OK,’ and then he went over and grabbed my husband and threw him to the ground.”
She said Whitaker then explained that he had been observing the car he thought her husband had been driving because it had been crossing the center line.
She went on to explain more than once that she had been driving.
The man tells Klondaris that he remained on the ground for a while and drew a contrast to how Whitaker acted compared to other responding officers.
“It was him that didn’t want me to get up … I gotta tell you, the other officers, the one (that) gave me a breathalyzer test. Young guy. Nice guy. Real nice guy … very polite, courteous. I can’t say they did anything bad.”
The woman interjects, adding, “They almost seemed to be embarrassed.”
The audio portion of the interview ends with Klondaris asking the man if Whitaker said anything to him before he was “knocked to the ground.”
The man responds, “no,” and the audio ended.
Representatives of the Facebook page, Warsaw Community, had sought to obtain Klondaris’ audio through a public records request. Instead of complying, Klondaris opted to have it posted on the city website.
Unlike the previous posting of related items, the city did not announce the latest addition ahead of time.
On the city website, the audio is labeled “council audio recording.”
The names of the couple were redacted from the audio.