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Escape to Fort Wayne
The Salvation of a Native Son
By Richard L. Kolkman, Jr
Fort Wayne Reader
This story is intended to illustrate the healing qualities of returning to live in Fort Wayne under the direst of circumstances, and is not intended to denigrate the good work of Fort Wayne’s finest. According to federal officials I have interviewed, my experience with Brownsburg police is characteristic of thousands of small towns across the USA, where local law enforcement consider themselves to be rulers of the people they purport to protect, and laws are sometimes enforced in an arbitrary fashion. In my limited encounters with the Fort Wayne Police Department, I have found them to be as
professional as we should expect.
When your back is against the wall, and “law enforcement” and criminals have destroyed your life for kicks, Fort Wayne can be a salvation. It saved me. I was born and raised in our city of Fort Wayne. I am among the legion of kids who sat on Santa’s (Phil Steigerwald) lap at Wolf & Dessaurs. I though W&D was Macy’s. I never forgot opening day of the Zoo or Glenbrook (both summer 1965) when Dinoland (and Sinclair Oil) brought their full-sized fiberglass dinosaurs to FW and exhibited them in Glenbrook’s parking lot. Unforgettable!
I grew up on Murphy’s donuts, Smoky’s Record Shop, Bobick’s Golf, and Stoner’s Funstore. When I was older, I slapped a “To Hell with Shell” gas crisis bumper sticker on my car along with everyone else. Sadly, I remember the Santa Claus being lit up just days before John Lennon was murdered. I see Santa in lights, I think of Lennon. Fort Wayne seemed small and I moved to a different city.
After Herron School of Art / IU was thru with me, I lived in Indianapolis for 20 years. The last ten of those years were spent living in the sleepy town of Brownsburg, eight miles west of Indy.
Who let the dogs out?
Life is great in a small town—that is, until backwoods career criminals move in next door. After ten peaceful years, my new neighbors not only introduced themselves by pounding on my door, threatening to kick my ass, but their hunting dawg puppy mill filled the air with 12 hours of non-stop barking for 1.7 years. The police would not enforce the noise ordinance, and the chief-of-police told me to keep quiet or move if I didn’t like the situation. One officer told me that I would be arrested if I persisted in getting town noise ordinance 90.06 enforced—an ordinance that even covers the yipping of chinchillas.
The attempted murder
One sunny fall day, the father and son criminal tag team (my neighbors) shot a perceived enemy of theirs, right on the streets of Brownsburg. The victim lived, and testified in civil court that the son shot first. While the victim was lying on the ground, wounded, the father grabbed the gun and fired additional rounds into him.
Logic tells us that both shooters should be detained, (and undergo paraffin-dermal tests) but not in Hendricks County. The father was a professed good friend of the chief-of-police. So—you guessed it; the second shooter walks free from the scene (armed and dangerous) and was never convicted by the county’s prosecuting attorney. The son was held for 120 minutes on $5,000 bail bond. The victim received a small measure of justice when he sued his attempted murderers in civil court and won $1,700,000. To date his attackers have paid him $10.
After the murder attempt, I won in town court four times, and the noise from the puppy mill 10 feet from my home stopped. You have never heard a sweet silence like this until you have endured a 1.7 year marathon of a yard full of barking dogs.
Brownsburg Town Council had forced the officers to do their job. But while the noise may have stopped, the price I was to pay was looming on the horizon. Soon after the silence began, I began receiving visits from a couple of town police officers. On one occasion, they accused me of lighting a firecracker the day after the 4th of July. On another, an officer showed up while I was in my yard, talking to my other neighbor, and told me to...”go back into my house and be quiet because (I) should be happy that (I) won in court.”
On yet another visit, the officer told me that I was trimming my bushes incorrectly, and that I should invite him into my home so that he could examine the implement that I was using. Once inside, he told me that I should keep my shrub trimmer hidden in my jacket while working in my yard, because it scared my immediate neighbors (both construction workers) when hanging by my belt, as it had for the last 10 years.
The fact that my neighbors had tried to kill an unarmed man and walked from the scene was to be of no concern for me. My neighbors had informed me that I “was next” and that due to their friendship with the chief-of-police, the law could not touch them. I believed them. Life was getting worse in this small town...
In another incident, I was attacked by a friend of the next door criminals in front of a police officer, (in my own yard) who was investigating my neighbor’s illegal construction project (a two-story garage without building permit). I am prohibited (by ex officio threat) to access this police report—and I’ll tell you why: Tommy’s attack on me is detailed within. The officer (not part of harassment campaign) who wrote the report confirmed this to me.
And finally, I was met at my door by the officer who had earlier issues with my shrub trimming. He was at my door because...” (I) had been raking my leaves in the rain.”
That was the limit for me. I made the officer very angry when I held my wrists out together and told him to throw the cuffs on me, because I was going to go peacefully. I did advise him that perhaps raking leaves in the rain was not actually a crime, and that perhaps he had better things to do while on active duty, and to think it over. I was not arrested. Not on that day.
I emailed the chief-of-police exactly when and where I would be in my yard raking, and that if he and his officers had a problem with it, that’s where they could find me. I also thanked him for finally enforcing the noise ordinance (just to show that I’m not a complete malcontent).
The police incursion
Only seven days after drawing my second One Girl comic strip—five days after emailing the chief—one officer arrives in my yard to tell me to remove my newly-installed security camera.
Three hours later, I was raking leaves when “Tommy”—friend of the criminal neighbors of mine— suddenly ran towards me, screaming. He lunged towards me, swinging. I tried to block him with the rake, staging an offensive retreat to my house before dropping the rake and hurrying inside. He picked up the rake and started striking the side of the house, while I was on the phone with a police dispatcher. The neighbors watched the entire time.
Two officers instantly showed up (including an officer who claims in an email to me (2009) that he was not there), and after drawing their weapons and handcuffing me, they went through my home looking through closets. Then I was arrested. Officers discussed
elements of the attack in front of me that proved they were implicit in the planning of my arrest. I had been taught my “lesson.” The sad result of (alleged) conspiracy to procure false arrest.
I was jailed on (unauthorized) $100,000 bond and was denied a phone call and access to an attorney and was held in solitary. The arresting officer wrote a false report at odds with four eyewitness statements (and ignored by the prosecutor).
While still in jail, I was ordered during the “video arrangement” to describe for the judge (and my attackers) what and how many valuables were in my (now) abandoned home.
I was facing seven FALSE violent felony charges. After a harrowing meeting with a Hendricks County “public defender”— who informed me I could not quote the arresting officer, as he was “not at the scene” — I was told I was facing 14 years in prison if I didn’t sign their plea deal on a technicality: ownership of a shotgun 1/32" too short—the Winchester “Youth Model.” A gun designed for use by children. I cradled it as my attacker was battering my front door with my rake as I called police dispatch. I had only obtained it for protection from my neighbors (the violent career criminals).
By the way, Hendricks’ “public defender” works at the law firm that defends Hendricks County against civil suits. A clear conflict of interest.
Stupidly, and in terror, I signed their thing and I endured being screamed at by the judge in a bizarre, vituperative manner a laundry list of charges I had to carefully repeat after him —which included being an “illegal weapons dealer!” I felt like an animal who has to chew a leg off to escape doom.
After finally reaching a phone in the jail’s general population, I had bailed out of Hendricks County lockup after two memorable days (and nights). I was being threatened with 14 years in prison (by my “public defender”) if I insisted on a jury trial on the seven false charges concocted against me. Financially destroyed by unauthorized bail bond and court costs, my back was against the wall, and I fled to my hometown...Fort Wayne.
Salvation in Fort Wayne: Return
I landed in my old neighborhood, the southwest side, near South Side High School (I was in class of ‘79) I had returned to my hometown...on probation. A chance to turn life around, I was told. Lucky me. Yes, I had hired a legitimate attorney—but only to extricate myself from Hendricks County to the safety of Fort Wayne.
A talented old-school layout artist and marketing direction guru, Steve Marret hired me at Marketing Impact and that was like having someone throw a life preserver to my sinking career. I worked on orthopedics design and surgical tech manuals for Zimmer.
The great folks at Science Central (Anne, Judy Zehner, Shane and Jen Neher) threw work my way. Fort Wayne Magazine commissioned me to draw illustrations for them (thanks Beth); and Terry Atz hired me to re-design his ice cream cartons. Thank you, Fort Wayne.
I finally landed a layout artist position working for my friends at Diversity Media Group. Vince Robinson and Terri Miller published INK newspaper (2001-2009) and it was thru DMG that I also had/have the good fortune to help Michael Summers with FWR layout. Vince told me that he did not check my criminal record when hiring me, and we both laughed that perhaps he shouldn’t be so trusting. Working for Vince and Terri was the most fun job I’ve ever had.
Fort Wayne has healed me, (and kept me safe) and as of January 13, Indiana’s new shield law will put the regrettable plea bargain (1/32" too short—remember?) behind me in the public eye. While some in law enforcement decry this new shield law, it is a godsend for we victims of the “legal system” who truly do not belong in its eternal grip. Being attacked in my own yard while raking leaves should not be a life sentence.
Making a federal case of it
Currently, upon the recommendation of Indiana State Police superintendent Dr. Paul Whitesell my federal crime victim statement has been forwarded to the proper federal office: the United States Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division / Criminal Division / Public Integrity Section) for investigation. My experience with them is encouraging and professionally inspiring. They see this stuff all of the time, and are proud to be of help.
I’m currently conferring with a civil attorney in Indianapolis to claim restitution for the bottom-to-top legal nightmare I endured in Hendricks County.
And in the end...
I’d like to end on a positive note. The solid little house I am living in was owned and renovated by Sam and Ross of Witchet Remodeling—two great guys indeed. I am fortunate to live in a vibrant old neighborhood surrounded by good neighbors. When my neighbor’s black labrador (Lilly) barks a couple of times a day, it is music to my ears. Life is good in Fort Wayne.
Richard Kolkman is the creator of weekly comic strips One Girl and Things from Nowhere at: http://www.seriocomics.com — comics research and production. He compiled the hallowed research work The Jack Kirby Checklist (gold edition, 2008) for TwoMorrows Publishing.
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