Recently a local law enforcement officer was given a ten day suspension for violently kicking a dog. The suspension may have been the result of public outcry created by the owner of the dog releasing doorbell camera footage of the incident on social media. The christian scriptures say, “remember all those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” In God’s sight justice denied to a thief and an addict, is the same as justice denied to the innocent. Justice has been denied to a local man named Richard Patterson and his family, and several local institutions have gone to great lengths to prevent the public from knowing about it. If the mistreatment of a dog results in a ten day suspension, then what should the discipline be for negligence leading to the death of a human being?
On June 13th, 2021 Richard Patterson escaped custody through the back window of a Vigo County Sheriff’s department squad car and fled on foot through a nearby wood line. Three days later his mother filed a missing persons report with the Sheriff’s department, and according to an Indiana State Police department investigation, Deputy Khristopher Morris, who took the report, was ordered by Detective First Sergeant Clay White not to file it. The reason given was that the individual was not missing but had escaped custody, despite the fact that Patterson was still missing from the escape. According to the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department procedures and state law enforcement guidelines included in the ISP investigation, a Silver Alert should have been issued for Richard Patterson but never was. And these are not the only instances of broken protocols related to Richard’s arrest and escape.
It all started with a 911 call reporting a dark colored vehicle parked on the side of the road and the driver appearing to be incapacitated. When Vigo County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Brent Hall and Deputy Zach Belfi responded to the call, they woke the driver and quickly discovered that the vehicle had been stolen, and that there was stolen property inside. Some of the stolen items included the owners identification and Lieutenant Hall went to their residence to return the items. Deputy Belfi arrested, searched, and questioned the driver who verbally identified himself as Richard Patterson. Lieutenant Hall then requested Deputy Belfi bring Mr. Patterson to the victim’s residence and upon arrival Deputy Belfi rolled down the back window so that the victims could question him about the possible location of other stolen items that had not been retrieved. Deputy Belfi and the victims then walked away leaving the window down, despite Deputy Belfi previously reporting that he felt the suspect had a strong desire to escape.
Once Deputy Belfi and Lieutenant Hall realized Patterson had escaped they called for a Terre Haute Police Department K-9 unit to assist in the search. From the ISP report it is not clear when THPD officer Nick Ciolli arrived on the scene with his K-9 “Vader,” but it would be reasonable to assume that because Belfi and Hall had originally responded to the 911 call at 12:06 am, and the events leading up to Ciolli’s arrival probably took an hour to an hour and a half, Ciolli would have to have arrived somewhere between 1:00 and 1:30 am. Which is particularly concerning considering the fact that the ISP report indicates that officer Ciolli left the scene at 2:27 am, meaning they only searched for Richard Patterson for an hour to an hour and a half. They did report, however, searching around the pond where Richard’s body was later found.
A request for body camera footage related to the search was made to the city legal department but was denied because the footage contained THPD K-9 tactics which could be considered “dangerous” to the public, despite most of the K-9 tactics used being publicly available in the report filed by the Indiana State Police Department. A complaint was filed with the Indiana Public Access Counselor due to the unreasonable nature of the denial. After the complaint was filed, a request for comment was made to THPD Chief Shawn Keen and Vigo County Sheriff John Plasse, and no response was received. A request was made for Deputy Belfi’s disciplinary file which was approved and revealed no discipline had been taken for the negligence resulting in Patterson’s escape and his subsequent death.
I have tried to communicate the facts of this case as clearly as possible without my personal bias. The vast majority of this information came straight from the Indiana State Police department incident report which can be publicly requested from the ISP or let me know and I will send you my copy. I believe that if body camera footage of the search was made available there would have been a stronger public outcry for justice in this case. If you’re looking for something you can do to make a change in this case, or in greater public access to body camera footage, please make a request to the mayor and the city legal department asking them to release the body camera footage of the search for Richard.