While the location of the 78 firearms that are unaccounted from the sheriff’s department after the Dec. 21 break-in is unclear, a check of court records indicates how the sheriff’s department acquired what are believed to be 19 of the weapons, including four guns that are indirectly connected to a civil lawsuit against Sheriff Lawrence Hodge, which is set for trial in about two months.
Four of the unaccounted for weapons were seized by police on Dec. 4, 2004, when deputies conducted a bootleg raid at a Rockholds residence.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Darlene Ellery pleaded guilty to illegal sale of alcoholic beverages, and received a 30-day probated jail sentence in connection with the incident. She agreed to forfeit $100 cash to the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department drug fund, and all seized contraband at the time of the arrest.
A charge of possession of a defaced firearm against Jimmy Thomas was dismissed as part of an agreed order of dismissal.
District Judge Cathy Prewitt signed the agreed order in January 2006, which called for all weapons seized at the time of arrest to be turned over to the Whitley County Hunter Education Program, which is sponsored by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
An evidence log indicates that 10 guns were seized.
"All other items seized shall be returned to the defendant," Prewitt stated in the order.
On March 9, 2007, Thomas’ former attorney, David O. Smith filed a motion on behalf of Thomas to have Hodge held in contempt for not returning the items, but Hodge couldn’t be present at the hearing due to illness. A supplemental motion concerning the contempt motion was mailed to Hodge on April 3, 2007, informing him a hearing on the matter was scheduled for April 9, 2007.
Police charged Thomas with third-degree assault and resisting arrest during an April 6, 2007, traffic stop where Thomas allegedly assaulted Hodge.
The details of what happened vary between the lawsuit and the arrest citations.
About 6:50 p.m., Deputy Ben Hodge, the sheriff’s son, pulled Thomas over for allegedly weaving in and out of his lane of travel several times, Williamsburg Police Officer Shawn Jackson wrote on the arrest citations.
Thomas allegedly had slurred speech, blood shot eyes, was unsteady on his feet, and refused all sobriety tests, according to the citations.
"Offender stated he had been taking narcotic pain medication," Jackson wrote on the arrest citations.
The citations further alleged that Thomas would not comply with orders from officers, and that when he got out of the vehicle he stated he had a gun, and reached back into the vehicle.
"Officers ordered subject to show his hands. Offender then came out of vehicle swinging his fists, and punched Sheriff Hodge in the mouth," Jackson wrote on the citation. "Offender had to be physically restrained while kicking and punching at officers."
The lawsuit, which Thomas filed a month later in Whitley Circuit Court, alleged that the second words spoken to Thomas by the sheriff’s deputy, who pulled him over, were "When is your next hearing with the sheriff?"
When the sheriff arrived, Thomas alleged that he was taken from his truck, his weapon confiscated, and that he was forced to his knees and "beaten" by the sheriff and those acting at his direction.
"At the direction of the sheriff, solely as retaliation for the plaintiff’s lawful attempt to obtain his stolen property, the sheriff had and permitted excessive force to be used on the plaintiff," attorney David O. Smith wrote in the lawsuit.
"The plaintiff was falsely arrested and charged with false charges that were fabricated by the defendant sheriff, and those acting in concert with him."
Last January, Thomas pled guilty to resisting arrest during the April 6, 2007, incident. Special Judge Cletus Miracle sentenced him to 90 days in jail, but agreed to conditionally discharge that sentence for two years.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the third-degree assault charge.
The civil lawsuit Thomas filed against Hodge is set for trial March 30 in Whitley Circuit Court before Special Judge Gary Payne.
Benson weapons seized
15 of the unaccounted for weapons were taken when police executed search warrant on June 12, 2004, at a residence belonging to Richard Benson.
12 serial numbers for weapons seized in that case match exactly to a list of missing guns supplied by AFT agents, and serial numbers on three other weapons are off by only one digit.
When police executed the search warrant, they were looking for a 13-year-old girl, who was supposedly at Benson’s residence under the influence of methamphetamine, according to an affidavit for the search warrant.
What they found was seven hidden wall safes, hollowed out books with hidden compartments inside, 17 firearms, and about 30,000 rounds of various ammunition, according to police.
In addition, police recovered over 100 switchblade knifes, a small amount of marijuana, and about three ounces of pure methamphetamine commonly referred to as ice, which is meth in its purest form.
During a 2004 interview, Whitley County Sheriff Lawrence Hodge estimated the street value of the drugs recovered to be about $30,000.
Benson later pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance in exchange for a probated 12-month jail sentence.
Benson also agreed to donate $25,000 to the sheriff’s department. In addition, he agreed to forfeit all guns, knives and other contraband confiscated at the time of his arrest to be disposed of according to statute, according to the agreed order.