Crawfordsville and Montgomery County represent some of the best of Indiana: a small, tightly knit rural community where your next door neighbor could be a farmer, a businessman, or even the mayor. But since September of last year, an unsettling development has taken place.
Since Sept. 23 of 2018, five police-involved shootings have taken place in Montgomery County.
On Sept. 23, 2018, a Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputy shot and struck a man at his residence in Waynetown. The man was described as “drunk and disorderly” and allegedly came out of his home as officers were leaving and brandished a weapon at officers and bystanders.
On Dec. 28, Glenn Rightsell, 56, of Linden, was shot by an Indiana State Police Trooper while tending to his daughter’s stalled SUV near U.S. 231 N and Montgomery County Road 550 N. Police said the office though Rightsell was grabbing a handgun holstered on his waist after the trooper directed him not to and fired multiple shots. Rightsell died at Franciscan Health Crawfordsville.
On April 3, 2019, the Montgomery County SWAT team shot Matthew Olsen, 39, while executing a search warrant related to felony weapon and drug charges. Olsen allegedly shot at officers, prompting them to return fire.
On May 22, Lucas Anderson, 36, of Crawfordsville, was shot outside his home in the 300 block of Walnut Street by CPD officers. They were there on a domestic disturbance call. When officers arrived, Anderson brandished a BB gun at the officers, who fired back, unaware it was only a BB gun.
And most recently, on May 31, CPD officers shot Joshua Brown, 41, Crawfordsville, during a traffic stop that began in the 2000 block of Lebanon Road and ended on Banjo Drive. Police reports said Brown refused to stop for a traffic violation. A chase ensued that ended in a parking lot off Banjo Drive. Brown reportedly brandished a semi-automatic weapon at officers. Officers fired and struck him.
Five shootings in less than a year is cause for concern, although it’s hard to compare to historic figures. The Paper has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain those statistics.
In the meantime, Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton said some perspective is needed.
“You have to look at each incident individually,” Barton explained. “But I’ve been asked what is the running theme? It’s people brandishing weapons in interactions with the police.”
Barton said that it’s also too soon to draw conclusions.
“We just have to let the investigation run its course before we make any judgement. The other thing that is striking to me is I feel for the police officers (who) are being put in these situations that no one wants to be in, and it’s just tough.”
County Council President Terry Hockersmith said the problem extends beyond the county.
“I think nationwide the respect for law officers has gone away and it’s too bad. The police are out there upholding the law.”
Hockersmith also said that the circumstances lead to the conclusion.
“They (police) are trying to do their jobs and someone waves a gun at them, they’re going to defend themselves”
Newly elected Sheriff Ryan Needham agrees.
“It comes down to basic lack of knowledge and respect. If you own a firearm, have a permit to carry one or you keep a gun in your car, that comes with a responsibility, and then if you have an interaction with officers, there’s a responsibility there too. And if make an assertive movement with a weapon towards an officer, bad things are going to happen. I don’t know if it’s a lack of respect, lack of knowledge, but it is concerning.”
Needham’s counterpart at the city, Chief of Police Mike Norman, echoed the concern.
“It’s very concerning, what’s going in our community,” Norman said. “And I don’t think it’s just our community. I don’t know what the issue is, but you hear these types of things going on more frequently in the news and media.”
Jim Fulwider, the president of the county commissioners said he believes in the people and the process. “There’s obviously concern any time there’s situations like that, but we have good, reliable people running those departments to look into these situations when they do happen.”
Support in the community is still there though.
“We appreciate everything that our local law enforcement officers have been doing,” Chamber Executive Director Rick Hernandez said. “It’s unfortunate the circumstances (police have) been put in lately, but the Chamber appreciates what they’re doing protecting our community and our citizens and our businesses.”
The Paper reached out to Montgomery County Prosecutor Joe Buser, who said through a representative that he does not talk to the media. The Paper also tried the three judges in Montgomery County, Harry Siamis, Heather Barajas and Peggy Lohorn, who all declined comment. Police Commissioner President George Parker did as well.