A group of police officers were "pretty blatant" when they eavesdropped on conversations between a man facing a murder charge and his attorney and later found a gun based on what they had overheard, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush said Wednesday.
Rush's comment came during arguments in the case of a northern Indiana man, Brian Taylor, who is charged in his girlfriend's fatal shooting. The justices are weighing whether a LaPorte County judge exceeded her authority in June 2014 by barring all trial testimony from the officers after they invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the eavesdropping.
Court records say several Michigan City officers and a deputy LaPorte County prosecutor overheard parts of Taylor's conversation with his attorney — a conversation held in a room the attorney was told would be private.
Rush said the eavesdropping was no accident and questioned Brian Reitz, a deputy state attorney general who is representing prosecutors, about his comment that the officers "may have overheard" some of the conversations.
"May have overhead the conversation? It's pretty blatant here, it wasn't like an accidental walking by and someone is speaking loudly," she said.
Rush did not indicate when the justices might rule in the case, in which the county judge also excluded from evidence a gun that officers found based on the eavesdropping.
The high court took up the case in September, three months after the Indiana Court of Appeals found that LaPorte Superior Judge Kathleen Lang correctly barred the gun as evidence but went too far in barring all the officers' testimony.
Reitz told the justices Wednesday that Lang's order was "an extreme sanction" and the officers should be allowed to testify about evidence they collected before the eavesdropping.
Justice Mark Massa called the officers' eavesdropping "egregious police conduct, unprecedented" and Justice Dickson called the officers' actions "despicable."
Taylor's attorney, David Payne, told the justices that even permitting the officers to testify about evidence obtained before the eavesdropping would taint Taylor's trial and give authorities insight into the defense's strategy.
Justice Steven David asked Reitz whether the murder charge Taylor faces would be dismissed if Lang's order barring the officers' testimony was upheld. Reitz said he believes that's unlikely but said barring their testimony would create "hurdles" for prosecutors in moving ahead with the case.
Taylor's trial in the March 2014 killing of his girlfriend, 24-year-old Simone Bush, was delayed after the judge barred the officers from testifying.