Former mayor sues Columbus Police Department

A former Columbus mayor is suing the city’s police department and its chief.

Kristen Brown filed the lawsuit on Friday in Bartholomew Superior Court 2. The suit alleges that CPD and Chief Jonathan Rhode denied Brown access to public records. According to the filing, Brown made a public information request on Sept. 8 to Chief Rohde for an incident that took place on Aug. 23. The incident involved criminal mischief or vandalism and a domestic disturbance where two vehicles were damaged.

Brown alleges that Rhode responded with a publicly available “incident report” on Sept. 26, 11-days later than what the Indiana Access to Public Records Act requires. The former mayor also alleges that Rohde did not include all of the information that she requested. This led to Brown filing a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor on Sept. 30.

The public access counselor issued an advisory opinion that sided with Brown. You can read the advisory opinion here (PDF) .

The court filing states that Brown again pressed CPD for additional information from the Aug. 23rd incident. She says that her request was met with a response from City Attorney Allan Whitted, informing her that the department has turned over all of the information they had on the matter. Brown’s suit alleges that the city is not being truthful and is hiding the information she has been asking for.

Brown’s suit is asking for the court to force the Columbus Police Department to provide the information that she is requesting, declare that the department and Chief Rohde violated the Indiana Access to Public Records Act, impose a $100 civil penalty against CPD and for reimbursement to cover her attorney’s fees and other expenses. She is also asking the court for a change of venue. Superior Court Judge Kathleen Coriden has not yet made a ruling on the venue change request.

Brown’s action is the latest against the city after being ousted in the 2015 Republican Primary by current mayor, Jim Lienhoop. City officials say that Brown and a small group of her supporters have filed numerous public information requests, as well as made official complaints to the Indiana Public Access Counselor, against the city. Prior to the end of 2016, city officials say that nearly two-dozen requests were made during that year alone. Late last year, Mayor Lienhoop publicly asked Brown and her supporters to stop, citing the time and expense the requests were costing the city and its employees. Lienhoop said he made the public comment to let residents know about the requests, several of which he called, “silly.”

Our request for comment from Brown went unanswered. Chief Rohde referred us to Allan Whitted, who said that he has a professional policy of not commenting on pending litigation.