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Ethics Commission meeting
When: 1:30 p.m. July 20
Where: Allen County commissioners' chambers,
Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St.

Little audio from Moss traffic stop

Effects unknown for ethics panel; hearing in a week

Moss

– A week from today, the three members of the Allen County Ethics Commission will meet in public to review a complaint filed against County Councilman Paul Moss and Sheriff Ken Fries in the aftermath of a highly publicized traffic stop.

Pulled over in a car full of people who had been drinking during the early-morning hours of June 2, Moss refused a portable breath test and called a vacationing Fries before being allowed by a sheriff's officer to find a ride home.

The stop was recorded by video cameras in two police cruisers, but a crucial element is missing: There is, for the most part, no sound.

Copies obtained by The Journal Gazette show Moss talking to sheriff's officers outside of his car but offer little more.

What will happen at the ethics commission meeting or how the complaint will be reviewed is not entirely clear.

Thomas Hardin, a local attorney who sits on the board, declined to speak about the procedure of the commission, what happens at such public meetings or how complaints are reviewed by the commission.

Other commission members, business owner Wendy Stein and retired Judge Thomas Ryan, could not be reached for comment.

Appointed by the Allen County commissioners to their unpaid positions, the ethics commission members have the power to review complaints and then reject or dismiss them or initiate investigations, according to an Allen County ordinance.

They can also "obtain information, and, upon a vote of two (2) members, compel the attendance and testimony of witnesses and the production of pertinent books and papers by a subpoena enforceable by the circuit or superior court of the county."

The sheriff's officers involved in the traffic stop did not write any police reports. The squad car videos, though, could presumably be of value to the commission.

Allen County sheriff's officials said that wireless microphones worn by officers who participated in the highly publicized stop were malfunctioning that morning. Thus, audio of what is said between officers and Moss is not available.

Not seen on the video – possibly due to it happening off camera or after the camera stopped recording – is the cellphone call Moss made to Fries, as well as the moments when one of the officers spoke to Fries over the phone.

Fries and Moss have maintained that Moss received no special treatment during the traffic stop despite the phone call between them.

Moss said in a written statement to the media that he only called the sheriff to expedite the process of taking a more reliable test than the portable breath test, which is not certified.

Portable breath tests during traffic stops can be refused without penalty, according to Indiana law.

Refusing a certified test, like one given at Allen County Jail, can result in a yearlong suspension of a driver's license.

News of the traffic stop sparked some outrage in the community. Many took to online message boards and the comments sections of media websites to write angry diatribes at what they saw as a politician calling in a favor.

The sheriff's department itself was inundated with angry phone calls in the days after news of the stop broke.

Philip Pease, a former county employee who was terminated from his position, filed a complaint with the ethics commission, alleging that Fries and Moss violated the county's ethics policy.

The commission will meet July 20 inside the Allen County commissioners' chambers at the Citizens Square building downtown to review that complaint.

Videos of the stop were obtained by The Journal Gazette as part of a public records request.

In the videos, the microphones on the cameras inside the cars pick up some police radio chatter and a police dog barking. One also picks up a brief exchange between the officers when they go inside a car together.

But the wireless microphones worn by the officers – designed to record conversations during traffic stops and other investigations – pick up nothing.

In one video, officer Edward Hegbli is driving on Dupont Road about 2:30 a.m. when he sees Moss' black Cadillac coming the opposite way. Hegbli almost immediately makes a U-turn to pull Moss over.

It's unclear in the video what Moss had done to grab Hegbli's attention.

Moss declined to comment for this story, but he recently told The News-Sentinel he was texting while driving before the stop and may have swerved.

Slowing the video down frame by frame shows Moss' car might have swerved slightly.

Still, the sheriff's department has not said what led to the traffic stop and Hegbli never made a report about the incident – something Fries said is not uncommon for a stop that results in no criminal charges or tickets.

The video shows Hegbli asking Moss to step out of the car along with an unidentified man.

Moss said in his brief statement to the media that he was providing a ride home for his daughter and her friends – all of whom had supposedly been drinking the night before and into that morning. Since issuing that statement, Moss has missed two consecutive County Council meetings.

Fries previously said that Hegbli told him at the scene Moss' car was full of five or six men and women in their early 20s and that the car smelled of alcohol.

Hegbli's video shows Moss standing outside his car for several minutes without stumbling or being off balance. At one point, Hegbli talks to Moss with a portable breath test in his hand. At this point, Moss presumably refuses to take the test.

Eventually, officer Steven Stuckey arrives at the scene. His squad car video shows nothing but the back of Hegbli's car after he pulls up to the traffic stop.

Hegbli's squad car video also shows him removing a handgun found in Moss' glove box.

Fries said previously that Hegbli told him Moss may have been drinking but did not appear drunk. Fries also said he never ordered or told Hegbli to treat Moss any differently from anyone else.

Fries also said previously it is common for officers to allow someone who they suspect may have been drinking but not drunk to call and get a ride home, which Hegbli apparently allowed Moss to do.

Hegbli's squad car video, which lasts 26 minutes, ends before Moss gets his ride.

Although neither sheriff's officer made a report of the incident, Fort Wayne police officer Andrew Irick did.

In his report, Irick wrote that he was on special drunk-driving patrol that morning and was called to the scene to administer sobriety tests to Moss.

Irick planned to administer those tests at the Bud Meeks Justice Center in downtown Fort Wayne. While there, he saw the sheriff's officers were delayed at the scene of the traffic stop for a lengthy amount of time.

Eventually, he talked with officer Stuckey – who did not speak with Fries during the stop – over the phone.

"I spoke with Officer Stuckey, who advised me that per Sheriff Fries, we were to disregard any further," Irick wrote in his report.

Shortly after Irick's report became public, Fries called those statements attributed to Stuckey "inaccurate."

While the ethics commission has set a date to review the complaint against Fries and Moss, it's not clear if such a complaint even falls under the purview of the commission, which usually deals in gifts that might generate a conflict of interest.

Possibly further complicating matters is Hardin's association with Steve Shine, the head of the Allen County Republican Party. Hardin is Shine's law partner. Moss and Fries are both Republicans.

In a 2008 complaint to the ethics commission involving the Allen County Plan Commission, Hardin publicly said he would abstain from voting on the issue because at the time he was the attorney for the plan commission.

jeffwiehe@jg.net

Squad car videos

These squad car videos show a a traffic stop involving Allen County Council Paul Moss, who refused a portable breath test and called the Allen County Sheriff before being allowed to get a ride home.

They were provided by the Allen County Sheriff's Department to The Journal Gazette.

Video 1

Video 2

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