After a jury convicted an Edinburgh man on charges stemming from a police chase where he also struck a police car, Johnson County’s prosecutor is hopeful new legislation will increase the penalties for similar offenders.
Anthony “Tony” Lee Allen, 56, was found guilty by a six-person jury Wednesday on charges of resisting law enforcement, criminal recklessness and auto theft, all Level 6 felonies, along with resisting law enforcement as a Class A misdemeanor, in Johnson Superior Court 3. A Level 6 felony carries a penalty of up to 2.5 years in prison, while a Class A misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, according to a Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office news release.
The jury deliberated for a little more than an hour, said Lance Hamner, Johnson County prosecutor.
Prosecutors say Allen stole a pickup truck out of an Edinburgh resident’s driveway. When Edinburgh Police Deputy Chief Hector Mercado attempted to pull over the truck near the Bartholomew County-Johnson County line in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, Allen fled north on U.S. 31 toward Franklin, according to Edinburgh Police.
Allen fled police at speeds of up to 80 mph while swerving off the roadway multiple times. Allen twice swerved into farm fields at high speeds, damaging crops and the stolen truck he was driving. Numerous cars and trucks on the roads that Allen was traveling had to dodge Allen’s vehicle as he was trying to escape, according to a news release.
“On several occasions during the chase other motorists on the highway had to dodge Allen’s reckless driving to escape being hit,” Hamner said.
Allen also rammed a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office vehicle head-on during the police pursuit, ripping the bumper off the vehicle and doing over $7,000 in damage to the vehicle, a news release said. The deputy was not injured, Edinburgh Police said at the time.
The stolen truck Allen was driving stopped running when he drove into a second farm field but he got out and fled on foot. Police dogs and drones tracked Allen, who was eventually apprehended by Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dylan Prather and his K-9 partner, Frizko, prosecutors said.
The type of criminal behavior exhibited by Allen “gravely endangers” citizens and law enforcement, Hamner said. It is “much more dangerous” than drunk driving, and Hamner added he believes the penalties should be increased.
“Clearly, we need harsher punishment for this kind of outrageous conduct to deter criminals who don’t care who they endanger, injure, or even kill,” Hamner said. “And if they can’t be deterred, then we need to put them in a cage where they can’t hurt anyone. What we cannot tolerate is continuing to impose ‘slap-on-the-wrist’ punishment and expect to it to somehow protect our citizens.”
This is not the first time Hamner has called for harsher penalties for the crime of resisting law enforcement with a vehicle.
After the June 28 death of Indiana State Trooper Aaron Smith, of Franklin, who was killed while trying to deploy stop sticks during a police pursuit on Indianapolis’ west side, Hamner wrote a column expressing the need for harsher penalties for the crime of fleeing law enforcement in a vehicle, encouraging the Indiana General Assembly to take action.
Following another police pursuit in November where a New Castle woman led officers on a high-speed chase with a child in the car near Smith Valley Road and Interstate 69, Hamner told the Daily Journal there is unanimous agreement among law enforcement that the penalties “should be substantially increased.”
“Criminals who endanger innocent people by running from police should know that they will face serious prison time, not a slap on the wrist. That requires action by our legislature,” Hamner said at the time.
Two local lawmakers are taking such action this session.
Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Cyndi Carrasco, R-Indianapolis, have introduced Senate Bill 240. This bill would make resisting law enforcement with a vehicle a Level 5 felony — increasing the maximum penalty from 2.5 years to six years, according to the bill’s text.
“Sheriff Duane Burgess completely agrees with me on this. A member of Sheriff Burgess’ office recently testified in a hearing on that bill,” Hamner said. “We are optimistic that we’ll get a change in the law.”
SB 240 also makes it illegal to partake in “spinning” — the repeated or continuous operation of a motor vehicle with the intent of causing the vehicle to perform a rotational skid. If someone is charged with a Class A misdemeanor for the crime, the bill also allows civil forfeiture of the vehicle, documents show.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Wednesday in a 45-3 vote, with two members excused. It is awaiting assignment to a House committee.
Carrasco is “proud” to be an author of SB 240, and “grateful” for its Senate passage, she said in a written statement.
“This legislation would have a meaningful impact to hold those accountable who commit dangerous acts like spinning with a motor vehicle and resisting law enforcement,” Carrasco said. “Everyone deserves safety, and those who jeopardize that safety should be held responsible.”
In the meantime, Hamner says he is pleased the prosecutor’s office was able to get “multiple felony convictions” in Allen’s case. He commended deputy prosecutors Stephanie Caraway and Matt Kubacki for taking the case to trial, and said he greatly appreciated the “hard work and diligence” of the Edinburgh Police Department.
“I would also like to express special thanks to Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Deputy Dylan Prather and his K-9 partner, Frizko, whose extraordinary tracking abilities led to Allen being apprehended and taken into custody,” Hamner added.
Prosecutors will be asking Johnson Superior Court 3 Judge Douglas Cummins to impose an aggravated sentence in the case.
“We need this individual to be in prison to protect our citizens and law enforcement officers,” Hamner said.
Allen is being held at the Johnson County jail pending sentencing, which is set for 9 a.m. March 8.