Town violated meetings law in suspension of police officer
INDIANA–The Town of Merrillville violated the state Open Door Law when it failed to provide notice for two public meetings involving the suspension of a police officer, a state appellate court in Indianapolis unanimously ruled in late October.
The court found that because the Merrillville Board of Metropolitan Police Commissioners failed to provide the required public notice and held the meetings in locations that were not “handicap-accessible,” the actions taken at the meetings were void.
In early June 1992, charges were filed against Officer Peter Blanco III for allegedly using excessive force while admitting a suspected drunk driver into the Lake County Jail.
On June 6, the Commission voted to suspend Blanco without pay. On June 19, the Commission ruled on several discovery and procedural issues in Blanco’s case. No notices were posted for either meeting and both were held on the third floor of a building that was not wheelchair-accessible.
Following the Commission’s determination that Blanco was guilty of four of the seven charges filed against him and should be terminated from the police department, Blanco filed suit in the Lake County Superior Court in Crown Point. The trial court held that the Commission acted in violation of the Open Door Law and that all action taken at the June meetings was void. The Town of Merrillville then appealed.
The appellate court noted that the purpose of the Open Door Law is to require public agencies to conduct open deliberations so that the community may be fully informed about the operation of government. The procedures followed by the Commissioners “thwarted” that purpose, the court found.
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in invalidating the actions taken at the meetings because the benefits gained by voiding the decision allows the public to become better informed, the appellate court held. (Town of Merrillville, v. Blanco; Defendant’s Counsel: James Spivak, Schererville)