Bloomington progressives have been disabused of the notion that there are depths to which local right-wing vigilantes will not sink. Two Fridays ago, Monroe County Councilman Scott Wells was set up, roughed up and arrested on politically motivated, bogus charges of drunken driving and resisting arrest. Plot participants included uniformed officers of the Indiana State Police.
"It's scary as hell," Wells said last Thursday evening.
Wells, a high school teacher and top vote-getter in the 2000 county elections, suffered a serious knee injury, abrasions to his face and hand, and a deep abrasion on his right elbow after two cops kicked him in the knee, wrestled him to the ground, and smashed his face into the pavement for allegedly resisting arrest.
On Sunday, Wells went to the Bloomington Hospital emergency room, where X-rays showed a break or separation of the lateral-superior region of the left patella. The total cost for the visit and prescription drugs was over $800. He soon will be seeing an orthopedic specialist.
What follows is Wells version of an encounter between an elected representative of the people of Monroe County and America's 21st Century police state.
Describing himself as one who leads a "structured, conservative life," Wells says he has gotten into the habit of late of having a couple of beers downtown on Friday evenings after completing his week teaching at Owen Valley High School.
He starts at the Crazy Horse, where he has a couple beers with dinner, and ends up at Nick's or Kilroy's. On that Friday, Wells, a former football player, says he drank two beers with dinner at the Horse. "That's how I relax. I have a couple beers with people."
Upon leaving the Horse, Wells drove up Sixth Street and parked his car on the north side of Sixth between Indiana and Dunn, just west of Indiana. Per his routine, he hung out Nick's and Kilroy's. He says he had a beer at Nick's and a daiquiri at Kilroy's before returning to his car at a little after 10 p.m.
A full two hours earlier, after Wells left the Crazy Horse, someone had called off-duty Indiana State Trooper and Monroe County Sheriff candidate J.D. Maxwell at home to report "a man" walking and driving drunk downtown. Even though the alleged offense occurred in the city police department's jurisdiction, Maxwell called the state police post, which dispatched Trooper Stacy Brown to the area.
It is still not known who called Maxwell. Whoever it was scheduled a news conference for Friday afternoon, only to cancel at the last minute at the request of the State Police. But Wells has his suspicions. One reason he goes to the Crazy Horse is that local Republicans, including County Council candidate Trent Jones, drink there. Wells says he likes to keep an eye on them and see what he can pick up.
"I think that's where the phone call came from - either from the Crazy Horse or around that area," he says.
Wells said he left Kilroy's a few minutes after 10 and walked to his car. As he was pulling away and fastening his seat belt, he looked toward the IU parking lot on the north side of Sixth and felt a chill spread over his body.
"I look over there and about 70 feet back from the entrance is a State Police car with its lights off, but the person is in there," he says. "He looks at me, and the first thing I think is, 'J.D. Maxwell. Oh shit, here we go.' And sure enough, the headlights come on."
Knowing that he's being followed, Wells says he practiced "textbook driving" - complete stops, turn signals, following the speed limit, etc. He turns left on Indiana, left on Seventh. "Halfway between Dunn and Indiana, the lights come on," he says. "I knew it was going to be a long night."
When Wells asked why he was being stopped, Brown said it was for a seat-belt violation. Wells replied that he was putting his seat belt on as he pulled away and was wearing it when he was stopped. Brown changed the subject, saying there had been complaints about his vehicle, about erratic driving and the driver walking intoxicated. Wells wondered how the trooper could say that after he had tailed him for about four city blocks.
Wells says he told Trooper Brown: "Officer, my vehicle has been parked over there for over two hours.' I inferred but didn't say, 'If I was drunk then, wouldn't I be bombed out of my gourd now after spending an additional two hours at the bars?' I mean, most people that I know don't go to bars to sober up. I also implied, how many minutes or hours have you been sitting there in that parking lot waiting for me with your lights out?"
Brown then returned to his car, and soon another trooper arrived. They told Wells that they wanted him to take a sobriety test. He agreed, expecting the routine dexterity tests - walking a straight line, touching the nose. "They didn't do any of that," he says. "He tells me, 'We're going to do a breath analyzer.'"
To that point, Wells says Brown had been extremely agitated and confrontational, which made him suspicious. "I'm thinking, 'All of this for a seat-belt violation. You're really stretching this, brother, to be this pumped up for something so minor. There's something wrong here.'"
Wells said he agreed to a breath test but insisted it be fair and unbiased. He requested it be administered at the jail on Seventh Street, just a few blocks away, where the most accurate tests are done. He repeated he wanted it to be fair and unbiased. When asked if he was refusing, Wells says he repeated that he wanted the test done at the station.
Because Wells already thought he was being set up by Maxwell and crew, he worried it might be possible to rig the results. He knew of Maxwell's checkered history with the State Police. That's why, he says, he requested the Breathalyzer test be done at the city police station.
At that point, one of the troopers forcefully grabbed Wells' arm, without warning, and pulled it behind his back in a "chicken wing" and said, 'You're under arrest.' Wells says he tensed up due to a reflex action, but did not assault, push, shove, or hit. When he protested that he hadn't done anything wrong, the trooper accused him of resisting arrest and "karate kicked me in my left knee. I couldn't see it coming. It was like a clip in football, a cheap shot."
That assault landed Wells face down on the sidewalk. "Then, he starts grinding my face into the cement, with his forearm. I have these strawberry patches on my face to verify it."
All of this was taking place in isolation. Wells said he kept screaming, "This is America, you can't do this to people," in hopes a witness would show up. None did.
As the events transpired, two city police cars arrived on the scene as backup. One of them took Wells to the County Jail, where he was booked on driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest charges.
As the squad car was pulling through the alley that leads to the jail, Wells looked out the window and saw four guys in the alley. "I know what J.D. Maxwell looks like," he says. "It was in the alley, and I can't say for sure. But the gray-haired, squatty guy in the red shirt, he sure looked like J.D. Maxwell to me."
The first thing Wells said inside the lockup was that he wanted a breath test. They gave him a test called an Alco-Sensor, which came out 0.075. The legal limit for drinking and driving is 0.08.
"I was really pissed off," he says. "I said, 'It feels like you broke my left knee. Look at what you've done to my elbow. Look at what you've done to my face. I've done nothing wrong.' I'm agitated now."
They briefly put Wells in detox, only to haul him out a few minutes later and tell him he had one option - to be taken to Bloomington Hospital, in hand cuffs, and have his blood tested for alcohol and other drugs.
Alco-Sensor tests are not admissible in court. And Wells says he wondered why they would not do the alcohol test on the "official" Breathalyzer test machine that was right there in the station and why it would take 30 days to get the blood-test results back. He asked for a chance to call his lawyer but was told no. He asked for time to think about it but was told no. So, he refused the blood test and spent 24 hours in the drunk tank. It cost him $1,100 to get out on bond.
"Eleven-hundred dollars, and I didn't even blow a .08," he says. "If I didn't have $1,100, I'd have been there until Monday at 2:30."
There's no question why the unholy alliance of developers, right-wing fanatics and cops are after Scott Wells. Working within the system, he's been an extraordinarily effective political activist, exposing the wrongdoings of some of the county's most powerful vested interests.
He's also in the forefront of a growing citizen movement that threatens the flow of taxpayer funds into developer pockets. If three "green Democrats" running in November are elected, Wells would be part of a progressive majority that could dramatically change the council's direction.
"When you're rocking the boat the way I am, they're going to try to get you anyway they can," he says. "I was stupid enough not to realize that."
He also has no doubt why Maxwell would target him. Wells recently sued county resident Kevin Shiflet for defamation after he charged at a county council meeting that Wells knew who set the fire at the Pedigo Bay housing development on Lake Monroe. In a 108-page deposition taken in that case, Shiflet "cracked like an egg, and the egg splattered, and part of it landed on J.D. Maxwell," Wells says.
"J.D. Maxwell is clearly one of the active participants in my defamation lawsuit against Kevin Shiflet et al," Wells says. Maxwell, along with other right-wing zealots like Franklin Andrew, Leo Hickman, Richard Wells and Bud Burnitt, were implicated in the deposition, Wells says.
"What's the motive for J.D. Maxwell to go after me?" he asks. "Is it the defamation lawsuit? Is that why he may have a vendetta to take my ass out? I don't know."
An out-of-county special prosecutor has been appointed to handle the case. And the Monroe County prosecutor and State Police have refused to release any information to the public on Wells' arrest.
Meanwhile, Wells worries about the advice he's getting from some friends and colleagues. "People tell me, 'They're getting so desperate, they might shoot your ass,'" he says. "You never know after this. They beat the hell out of me."