Following a shooting involving two of its officers, the Brownstown Police Department is moving forward.
Detective Jac Sanders is serving as interim chief while Chief Tom Hanner and Assistant Chief Joe Kelly remain on paid administrative leave.
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Hanner and Kelly were involved in an incident that occurred around 8:15 a.m. April 3 that led to the death of Barry Rucker, 53, of Brownstown.
Rucker died from his injuries after police said he pulled a small handgun while resisting arrest during a domestic disturbance outside the police department on South Poplar Street.
“What they did on that day was literally an achievement that few ever do in our law enforcement careers,” Sanders told the Brownstown Town Council during its meeting Monday night at the town hall, which is at the front of the building that also houses the police department.
“We pull our guns out maybe three or four times a year and point them at someone, but to actually take their life is less than 1 percent of all law enforcement across the country that actually do that,” he said. “Not only did they save their own lives, but (they) protected her.”
The woman who was in the truck at the time of the incident told police Rucker was in her vehicle when she had dropped her daughter off at school. At some point when she left the school, Rucker appeared from the back seat, presented a gun and told her to drive out of town. Instead, she drove to the police department and credited police with saving her life.
The officers and others who responded gave first aid to Rucker, and he was taken to Schneck Medical Center. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the Seymour hospital.
According to court records, Rucker had a pending case in Jackson Circuit Court on Level 5 felony charges of domestic battery by means of a deadly weapon and intimidation where the defendant draws or uses a deadly weapon.
On April 2, Rucker appeared for a pretrial conference in the case, a court official said. In that incident, a woman said Rucker battered her and cut her with a machete at his home, according to court records.
On Sept. 14, 2018, in a separate case, Rucker pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic battery in Jackson Superior Court I. He received a sentence of 365 days with 355 days suspended and was placed on probation.
A hearing to determine if the probation should be revoked because of the Nov. 18 arrest had been scheduled for April 4 in Jackson Superior Court I.
Brownstown Town Council President Sally Lawson said it’s the town’s policy to put officers on administrative leave and bring in an independent agency to investigate police-involved shootings. The Indiana State Police is investigating the incident.
Sanders said Hanner and Kelly could be back on the job in three to six weeks.
Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, public information officer for the Indiana State Police Versailles Post, said it’s not unusual for departments to have officers involved in shootings wait until the prosecutor makes a determination before they will return to duty.
He said road troopers, several evidence technicians from the laboratory division in the Versailles and Sellersburg districts and detectives from Versailles have assisted in the investigation.
“The investigation is still ongoing, and nothing significant has come up that changes what we originally released at the time,” Wheeles said Tuesday. “It just takes some time for the detectives to conduct interviews and finish all of their reports.”
Investigators are reviewing body cameras and interviewing multiple people, some of whom witnessed the argument before the incident and others who saw the shooting and the aftermath.
Wheeles said a lot of the investigation comes quickly as police sort out what happened, but then it slows down when they compile reports and other investigative material.
“All of that stuff takes time, and it will be turned over to the prosecutor afterwards, and the prosecutor will decide what, if any, action needs to be taken,” he said.
Hanner and Kelly’s absence leaves the department short two of its seven officers. The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department offered to help provide coverage to make up the shortfall.
“I would like to thank you and the others for stepping up in the absence of our assistant chief and our chief,” Councilman Mark Reynolds said to Sanders.
“It’s a lot of work,” Councilwoman Sharon Koch said.
“We appreciate it,” Reynolds added.
“I can’t tell you how frustrating his job is,” Sanders said with a smile about Hanner’s position. “I have a newfound respect for him and Joe trying to do the scheduling and answer calls at the same time. Both of those guys need a pat on the back.”
Lawson asked Sanders how the other officers are coping with the situation, especially considering four of them have been on the job for less than two years.
“I can tell you from being a veteran officer from a different department, this department is the closest-knit group of guys that I’ve been a part of,” Sanders said. “I can tell you that this department and the guys working here are the best. Tom has assembled the greatest guys.”
Sanders said they don’t discuss the incident outside of the department, just during debriefings.
“As far as coping with it, it’s a stressful situation because we want to measure up,” Sanders said. “I made the statement, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like Joe and Tom, be that hero.’ (The other officers) feel the exact same way.”
Lawson thanked Sanders for stepping up when a leader was needed.
“I wouldn’t call it leadership as much as I would getting it done,” Sanders said.
“Well, we appreciate you,” Lawson said.
“Thank you,” Sanders responded.