Greenwood Police Merit commission to decide officer’s fate at Thursday meeting

GREENWOOD, Ind. — During a four-hour hearing on Wednesday, Greenwood’s Police Merit Commission heard testimony and evidence against suspended officer Samuel Bowen to determine whether or not he’ll be terminated from the department. 

Bowen is accused of violating three department policies dealing with technology use and officer behavior. Those charges stem from messages Bowen sent on his department-issued devices in which he repeatedly made racist, homophobic and antisemitic comments.

Within the messages collected by the Greenwood Police Department, there were more than 50 anti-Semitic comments as well as more than 75 homophobic comments and phrases. There were also multiple uses of profanity as well as multiple race-related comments.

Just some of the thousands of pages of messages were read off during tonight’s hearing. Most of it cannot be repeated, but Bowen repeatedly used the terms “jew,” an anti-gay slur, and the term “13 percenter.”

That refers to the percentage of the US population that is African American and has been used to falsely suggest that they commit 50 percent of all crimes.

“As long as I’m the chief I would never put him back in a role where he’s going to interact with the public,” Chief James Ison said during his testimony. 

Ison was one of several witnesses who testified and were cross-examined. A city attorney and Assistant Chief Matthew Fillenwarth were also questioned. 

Aside from the offensiveness of the remarks and policy violations, the city attorney said Bowen’s comments also jeopardize any case he’s ever worked on. 

“If you have conduct like this, that really challenges their credibility,” said Greenwood Assistant Attorney Drew Foster. 

The messages came to light earlier this year after Bowen filed a federal lawsuit against Chief Ison and the city. 

He accused them of retaliating against him for critical comments he made on Facebook during the contentious Greenwood mayoral primary. 

Foster testified that the messages were requested as part of the discovery process.

Bowen’s attorney focused heavily on that ongoing lawsuit and argued his client is being treated harsher than other officers because of it.

When Bowen testified, he said he wasn’t proud of the comments but said it was a way to blow off steam. 

“It’s not anything I’m proud of. It was, to me, humor between friends and a way to deal with stress,” Bowen said on the witness stand. “I think a lot of people at this department can attest that the past two years have been very difficult for Greenwood.”

Bowen denied racially profiling anyone and said he did not realize the impact his comments would have at the time. 

“I don’t feel that I’m having bias towards these people,” Bowen said. “It’s terms I wish I didn’t use.”

In total, six Greenwood officers were involved in the messaging scandal. Three resigned and one was suspended for five days. Officer Bowen along with Officer Elijah Allen are having their fates decided in these disciplinary hearings. 

Despite the number of officers involved, Chief Ison said this is not a systemic issue in his department.

However, an expert witness testified at Wednesday’s hearing that this scandal has without a doubt hurt the credibility of Greenwood’s police force.

The commission has an executive session scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. where they will deliberate as a jury would and decide what Bowen’s punishment will be.

Their decision will then be announced at their regularly scheduled meeting immediately after the executive session.

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