An elected prosecutor who will decide whether a Franklin police officer should face a criminal charge has lengthy ties to the county’s legal system, including the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office which has excused itself from considering the case due to a conflict of interest.
Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams is conducting further investigation, including re-interviewing witnesses, before deciding whether Franklin police officer Bryan K. Burton should face a criminal charge from an Oct. 23 incident at his home. Burton and his wife were arrested, each on a charge of domestic battery, that day.
Adams said he has not set a timetable for reaching a decision.
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He was selected by Johnson County Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes, who said she picked him because she has known him for more than 10 years, he is located nearby, which cuts down on costs, and he already is handling another Johnson County case. Under state law, she could have asked any prosecutor or deputy prosecutor in the state, but picked one who has worked in Franklin extensively.
Adams worked in the prosecutor’s office starting in 2005 when Brad Cooper was a deputy prosecutor, but was recruited to work at a local defense firm and became a partner in 2007. He worked at the Franklin law office until he was elected Brown County Prosecutor a year ago.
He said he does not have a professional or personal relationship with Burton and likely would not recognize him. Adams’ work at the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office was mostly limited to the city courts, Adams said, and he doesn’t recall working closely with Burton on any cases.
“I never worked with him as a deputy prosecutor to my knowledge,” Adams said.
Emkes said she questioned Adams prior to giving him the case, probing further than just asking if he thought he had a conflict of interest.
“Anytime a police officer is being investigated, I know the public questions the investigation and any bias,” Emkes said. “I know it’s important for the public to have confidence in the system.”
Emkes asked Adams if he had any conflicts as a prior Johnson County deputy prosecutor and a defense attorney, and if he had ever represented Burton, but she found no reason that Adams couldn’t be fair and impartial in reviewing the case, she said.
“If I had any indication that he would tend to charge, or not to charge, based on his knowledge of Bryan Burton, then I wouldn’t have appointed him,” Emkes said.
She asks the public to trust the integrity of the court, and the integrity of the special prosecutor, who is an elected official.
Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper and his office asked to be excused from the case because Burton’s construction company is doing work at Cooper’s home. Cooper and Burton have been linked in past cases, including in 2011 when a sheriff’s deputy stopped a vehicle being driven by Burton, who was suspended from his police officer job and facing two criminal charges. Cooper was the only passenger in the vehicle, and was drinking alcohol, tried to conceal his identity, admitted to watching a sheriff’s office detective’s home and was fraternizing with Burton, a person charged with a crime in the county where he oversees all criminal cases, a report at the time said.
In 2010, Cooper had asked for a special prosecutor to review possible criminal charges against Burton, when Burton was accused of multiple departmental rules violations, improperly reporting hours worked, providing alcohol to minors and not reporting a vehicle accident. Later that year, the special prosecutor filed a felony charge of official misconduct and a misdemeanor charge of battery against Burton after a fellow Franklin detective told Indiana State Police that he saw Burton touch an informant’s genital piercing.
At the time, Cooper said a special prosecutor was needed to avoid the appearance of bias against or favoritism for Burton or witnesses who would testify in his case, including other officers and confidential informants Burton worked with as an undercover investigator, since Burton and others had been witnesses in cases tried by the prosecutor’s office.
Adams said he has no conflict of interest or bias in reviewing the case against Burton because of his history with the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office and police departments. In the local criminal justice system, the prosecutor’s office relies on police officers to gather proper evidence using legal methods that can’t be called into question so that the prosecutors can file charges and secure a plea agreement or guilty verdict. Police officers also serve as witnesses for the prosecution in criminal trials.
“I’m friends with all the local elected prosecutors,” Adams said. “That to me doesn’t cause a conflict at all. All of us are friends.”
Adams is sending Burton’s case to all of the attorneys in his office to get their opinions, and is having his office’s investigator conduct additional interviews with witnesses, he said. When asked if information was lacking from the case as presented to him, he said he wanted his investigator to conduct a couple interviews.
“I’m going to use my investigator to do some follow-up investigation in order to get a more clear picture of what happened, so I make the best decision I can based on the evidence I am going to be able to get,” Adams said.
He accepts several special prosecutor cases each year, but has never used his investigator to gather additional information on those cases before, he said.
Adams said he is disconnected from Johnson County and only recognized Burton’s name.
“I do recall some of his trouble from maybe six years ago, but to me that is not uncommon to have people who are known to the system,” Adams said.
Burton was initially charged in the 2010 incident, but the charges were dropped after a witness in the case no longer wanted to participate, and Burton returned to work as a patrol officer. The special prosecutor in that case, Rob Roberts, had worked at the Vigo County Prosecutor’s Office since 2000 and was an intern with the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office while he was in law school in 1998 and 1999.
According to Indiana law, Adams will be required to file a report of his investigation once it is finished, because Burton is a public servant. The report is a public record.
Adams also said he needs clarification from the court as to whether he is considering a charge against Bryan Burton, or whether he is to also consider a charge against Jordan Burton, his wife, who also was arrested. Emkes said that Adams is only to consider a charge against Bryan Burton. It is unclear whether the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing a possible charge against Jordan Burton.