Greenwood mayor candidate Hubbard denies choking teen in June incident

A Center Grove graduate has accused Greenwood mayoral candidate Joe Hubbard of choking him on his graduation day. Hubbard said there was no physical altercation and he was just protecting his daughter.

A partial report from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office regarding the June 5, 2022 incident has been circulating on social media for several days and the Daily Journal sought to get the full report and provide more context to the situation.

In addition to the report, statements from Greenwood resident Cole McNeill and his mother Tory Bridges have been going viral. Both McNeill and Bridges spoke about the incident with the Daily Journal. Hubbard’s campaign provided statements but declined an interview.

What happened

The incident, which McNeill alleges was a one-handed choke maneuver, occurred outside the Carefree Clubhouse near County Line Road and Leisure Lane. At the time, McNeill was in his car attempting to leave the area after stopping by to see Hubbard’s daughter, he said.

Video footage sent to the Daily Journal and referenced in a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office report, shows Hubbard walking up to McNeill’s car and leaning into the car for a few seconds and immediately leaving the area. The video shows him crossing the threshold of the vehicle’s window but does not make clear what Hubbard did or said after that happened.

According to McNeill, the two exchanged some words and then Hubbard choked him, only relenting after McNeill used both his hands to loosen Hubbard’s grip. He doesn’t remember exactly what Hubbard said to him.

“He had always been respectful, he and I never had any issue,” he said. “I rolled my window down, and I don’t remember exactly what he said, and then his hand was around my throat. I had to put both my hands around his to pull it off my neck just to breathe.”

To police, Hubbard said he told McNeill to stay away from his daughter and to stop contacting her. He said he did not put his hands on McNeill, according to the report.

The confrontation played out because Hubbard did not want McNeill around his daughter. However, McNeill claims Hubbard’s daughter had invited him to meet her after she finished her shift at the Clubhouse. He provided text messages and emails to the Daily Journal showing she had reached out wanting to see him several times between the day before the incident and early this year. The Daily Journal is not publishing the exact language of the text messages to protect the privacy of the parties involved.

Hubbard and his ex-wife, Amy Wampler, say McNeill was harassing and stalking their daughter at the time.

“My daughter ended a relationship. Cole McNeill began harassing both of my daughters and myself. He was constantly harassing and stalking all of us regarding the relationship,” Wampler’s statement says. “Joe simply confronted him in the parking lot when he showed up at her place of employment.”

This is something that McNeill says is inaccurate and, at the time, he was trying to distance himself from the relationship. He also said he has largely avoided contact with her since the incident.

Sheriff Duane Burgess searched through his office’s reporting system and could not find any reports of stalking or harassment that had been filed against McNeill.

No charges filed

At the time of this incident, Hubbard was the president of Center Grove School Board of Trustees and he was known to other public officials in the county. Burgess said the incident was handled appropriately by all parties involved.

Burgess said his deputy who responded to the incident did not know Hubbard was on the school board. The deputy submitted the report to his supervisor, who then forwarded it to the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office on the same day, he said.

Burgess himself did not learn about this incident until several days later, as he does not typically review incidents before they are submitted for charges, he said.

Joe Villanueva, the prosecutor at the time, filed a request for a special prosecutor due to his familiarity with Hubbard. Brent Eaton, the Hancock County prosecutor, was assigned to the case and declined to charge Hubbard because there was a lack of evidence.

In a report outlining his decision, Eaton said, “It can not be determined to the applicable legal standard if Hubbard did or did not touch McNeill. Therefore, there was not sufficient facts and evidence to sustain prosecution. No charges will be filed as a result of this incident.”

The report notes that there were no marks on McNeill’s neck when deputies came to photograph his injuries. McNeill also told the deputies that there were never marks because “the grab was quick and with one hand on the front of his neck,” according to the report.

Hubbard gave a statement to the Daily Journal defending his actions.

“I protected my daughter from a potentially harmful situation. If your question is why did I, as a father, protect my daughter, then I think that question answers itself,” Hubbard said.

Why now

Hubbard’s campaign is questioning why this was being bought up nearly a year after the incident, and days before the May 2 Republican primary.

“This represents last-minute dirty tricks from a desperate campaign. Joe did what any father would do, protect his daughter,” the campaign’s statement says. “Joe Hubbard is a man of integrity who stands up for what he believes. A special prosecutor determined no charges will be filed.”

Following the incident, McNeill and Bridges said they approached police and Center Grove school officials about Hubbard, but no action was taken other than the forwarding of the case to a special prosecutor. Center Grove spokesperson Stacy Conrad was unable to get a comment from Superintendent Rich Arkanoff regarding any conversation he may have had with McNeill about the allegations by deadline.

“When it came to the legal standard of battery, in the video you can’t see them touch. However, you have two witnesses, Cole and Joe’s daughter. She reported the incident to her supervisor that he choked him out,” Bridges said. “They reviewed the video and the officer and prosecutor confirmed he went over the threshold of the car. At the bare minimum, why is this not even reviewed for the legal standards of intimidation? A crime was committed there.”

With no legal recourse possible, McNeill decided to speak out now because of the prospect of a man who he said assaulted him becoming mayor. He waited to speak out because he did not think Hubbard would make it this far in his mayoral run, and he now sees that Hubbard has what appears to be significant support.

McNeill wanted the community to know his story, and he does not have a political agenda. He’s not old enough to have a political agenda, he said.

“I can’t drive to go get food or go the gym without seeing four or five Hubbard signs. It feels like a community I’ve been part of my whole life has turned its back on me. It feels like I wasn’t done justice and on top of that, the guy who did that is being rewarded,” McNeill said. “There’s no reason for him to do what he did. If he does this as an elected official, it shows he is impulsive and can’t think logically, and it shows how he can avoid the consequences.”

Editor Leeann Doerflein and reporter Andy Bell-Baltaci co-wrote this report.