Famous Prosecutor Back At It
I used to be a big boxing fan. Even tried the sport for a short bit until my face got in the way of too many lefts and rights and I started seeing lots of stars . . . in the daytime.
When Mike Tyson burst onto the scene, I watched every fight of his I could. The fury which he attacked opponents from the opening bell was unlike anything I had seen. At age 20 he became the youngest heavyweight champion in history and he and his rage looked unbeatable.
Unfortunately for Tyson, that rage didn’t seem to be contained to the ring. In July of 1991, he was accused of raping a 19-year-old beauty pageant contestant. About half a year later, the man who once held the boxing world in the palm of his hand walked out of an Indianapolis courtroom in handcuffs and was on his way to a 10-year prison sentence.
The man who sent him there was Greg Garrison.
Garrison went on to a career that included a 20-year stay at WIBC radio. His straight-shooting style and quick wit endeared him to listeners and that’s where I became a fan, too. So when he ran for public office last year, I watched with interest.
Recently, Garrison agreed to sit down and chat about that decision, and a few other things. He greeted me in his Hamilton County office and it was his laugh that quickly set the tone. It comes out quickly and often. It’s a friendly laugh, one that brings you along instead of making you wonder who the joke’s really on. It’s a laugh resulting from years of good times, weathered by inevitable challenges.
Garrison is the kind of stand-up guy who goes through life seeing good things, seeing things that make him laugh. He’s no Pollyanna. As a prosecuting attorney, he’s witnessed plenty of bad, the seamier, dark side of what makes human beings do wrong.
Like the scales of justice, the current Hamilton County Prosecutor represents, it’s a balance.
Garrison became the prosecutor after cruising through primary and general elections. He unseated a three-time incumbent by a wide 59-41 percent margin in the primary and then won over Democrat Jessica Paxson 57-43. At age 74, he was beginning a first term as an elected official. Would there potentially be a second or third term?
“No,” he shot back. “When this term is up, I’ll be 79 years old. You don’t even buy green bananas when you’re 79.”
Garrison grew up in Indianapolis in a home where his father was a doctor.
“He delivered about 900 babies in his life,” Garrison said. “He made house calls. The first baby he delivered was in a house with no electricity – and he didn’t get paid. I remember one of the farmers walking up our drive with a separated shoulder. Dad laid him on the pool table and said ‘this is going to hurt,” and whop, he put that shoulder back in place. The farmer thanked him and walked on back to go back to work.”
His mom stayed at home as moms did back then. Life was good for Garrison and his brother Chris.
“We had steaks on the grill at night. My grandmother stayed with us for a while.”
Garrison learned to play piano, not that he had much choice.
“It was either learn that or sell me off to the circus,” he quipped. “I was a pain in the ass. She (mom) wouldn’t admit that, but it was true.”
His family attended the Methodist Church and belonged to Heather Hills Country Club after it was built in 1960. It later became Maple Creek and is noted for being the first 18-hole golf course designed by the famous Pete Dye.
“I played a lot of golf,” he remembered. “I’d play 36 holes a day on the weekends. We had a lot of good times.”
After graduating from Warren Central, and like a lot of others in his family, Garrison headed for IU. He graduated there in 1970 and the IU law school in ’73. Of course, details of his now-famous career after that are well documented.
The Tyson conviction led to gigs with CBS News, Fox News, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, 48 Hours and others. That quick wit and affable personality far outlasted any notoriety from the trial. He was asked to comment on other high-profile court proceedings like the O.J. Simpson murder trial.
One thing led to another and Garrison began a radio career at WIBC that lasted two decades, 1997-2017, to the day.
“You have to understand, after I was done with O.J., I had a much different footprint.”
Visitors to his office today can see a Marconi award hanging on his wall, evidence of his high-quality work in radio.
“I think I was too dumb to be scared,” he said. “Besides, I’ve got such a face for radio.”
Does he miss it?
“Only for a minute,” he shoots back. “I don’t miss that red light. It’s a merciless mistress. My producers often had to stall because I don’t always show up on time.”
Stalling usually meant a longer version of his opening music, the energetic and lively theme from the 1960 smash Magnificent Seven by Elmer Bernstein.
“It said what I wanted to say – saddle up; let’s get something done here.”
Garrison has been getting something done for quite a while. The conservative Republican has a long-time friendship with former radio host, Indiana governor and vice president of the U.S., Mike Pence. He and brother Chris created a successful law practice that Chris still works at today. He’s made four trips to Israel, three as guests of the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis.
When talking with a visitor about those trips Garrison keenly observed, “There are two versions of you, the you before the trip and the you after.” He adds that he tells people his boss was a Jewish carpenter.
Garrison said that he ran for office at this stage in his life because friends, family and law-enforcement encouraged him to. He repeatedly says it’s the last stop, career wise.
“When this is done, I want to enjoy some things,” he said. “Look, there’ve been times in my life when we were fat. There have been times when the receptionist made more than me. That’s just life as an attorney, as an entrepreneur, as any small business owner.”
The lines on his face are evidence of those times. But the crow’s feet around Garrison’s eyes . . . tells you that whatever comes next will involve plenty of laughter, too.
-Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Wednesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at [email protected].