Elkhart officers indicted for beating handcuffed suspect

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Two Elkhart police officers who are alleged to have repeatedly punched a handcuffed man were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Hammond for using excessive force against an arrestee.

Cory Newland, 35, and Joshua Titus, 30, were charged with a single count of deprivation of rights under color of law, in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 242, for using unreasonable force against the arrestee who was identified only by his initials, M.L. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for both defendants.

According to the allegations in the indictment, M.L. was brought into the booking area of the Elkhart Police Department and seated in a chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. When M.L. spat in the direction of Newland, the indictment alleges, Newland and Titus repeatedly struck M.L. in the face, causing him to fall backward onto the floor. At that point, the officers continued to punch him while M.L. remained handcuffed on the floor.

The indictment further alleges M.L. was injured as a result of the officers’ actions.

Police video of the incident can be seen here.

“Today’s indictments send a clear message that the FBI won’t tolerate the abuse of power or victimization of citizens by anyone in law enforcement,” said Grant Mendenhall, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis Division. “The alleged actions by these individuals went against everything in the oath they took to serve and protect.”

The city of Elkhart confirmed to Indiana Lawyer that Newland and Titus remain on administrative leave. Also, according to a city spokeswoman, Elkhart does not pay for legal representation for city employees in criminal cases.

The indictment follows an investigation of the Elkhart Police Department by the South Bend Tribune and Pro Publica. Reporters uncovered a culture of discipline problems within the department, which included officers being promoted in spite of reprimands, suspensions and convictions.

Also, questions are being raised about the Elkhart justice system’s conduct in the investigation into the murder of a 94-year-old woman that led to the convictions of Lana Canen and Andrew Royer. Most recently, the Northern Indiana District Court is allowing Keith Cooper, who was wrongly convicted and eventually pardoned by Gov. Eric Holcomb, to move forward with his lawsuit and the police department, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the denial of habeas relief against another Elkhart man, Mack Sims, who was convicted of attempted murder.

 As a result of the investigative reporting, Police Chief Ed Windbigler has resigned and Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese, a former state representative, has announced he will not run for re-election. In addition, Deborah Daniels, partner at Krieg DeVault LLP in Indianapolis, has been hired by the city of Elkhart to review its police department’s use of force, disciplinary procedures and culture.

The case involving Newland and Titus was investigated by the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office and is being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Chang of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana and Trial Attorney Zachary Dembo of the Civil Rights Division.

“My office takes allegations of civil rights violations seriously, including use of excessive force by police officers sworn to uphold the law,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II. “Maintaining integrity in the criminal justice system by investigating and prosecuting police officers who step out of bounds with the law, while working with, training and promoting good relationships with law enforcement who operate within the law are important functions of my office.”

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