A new special prosecutor has been appointed to decide whether a Franklin police officer and his wife should face criminal charges.
Daniel Askren, the elected prosecutor in Fountain County in western Indiana, has agreed to accept the case after the initial prosecutor appointed to review the matter stepped away from the case, citing a possible appearance of impropriety due to his ties to the county.
At issue is whether suspended Franklin police officer Bryan K. Burton and his wife, Jordan Burton, should face any criminal charges relating to a domestic disturbance at their home last year.
Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor because he had a conflict of interest: Cooper hired Bryan Burton’s construction company to do work at Cooper’s home. Johnson Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes initially appointed Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams, but he declined the case several weeks into his investigation because a story published in the Daily Journal that explained his ties to the county could lead to the insinuation that any decision he made was tainted, he said.
Emkes has now appointed Askren, after calling prosecutors in other counties who declined the case, she said. She said she does not know Askren, that he can’t recall ever having been to Johnson County, that he doesn’t know anyone involved in the matter and he didn’t have any reason to believe he shouldn’t accept the case.
“My preference was an elected prosecutor, if possible, and based on the age of the case, I was hopeful someone could work on it soon,” Emkes said.
Police were called to the Burton home on Oct. 23 to investigate a report from Jordan Burton, 31, that her husband, Bryan Burton, 41, had grabbed her by the arm after an argument started when she tried to leave the home with their baby. She did not want another juvenile in the home watching the baby, according to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office report.
While she was walking to the vehicle, Bryan Burton grabbed her arm in an attempt to stop her from leaving, she told police. She also reported that he then disconnected the battery from the vehicle, the report said. Bryan Burton’s juvenile son told police Jordan Burton punched him in the head, the report said.
Bryan Burton and Jordan Burton were arrested, and Bryan Burton was suspended from his police officer job.
The Franklin Police Merit Board is set to consider the chief’s recommendation to fire Burton due to internal charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and conduct injurious to the public peace or welfare at a hearing scheduled in April. The charges are due to Burton’s arrest and Burton’s truthfulness during a meeting with the chief regarding Burton’s conduct, performance and actions prior to his arrest, according to the chief’s letter to Burton outlining the internal charges against him.
The status of his job and his criminal case have both been pending for nearly five months.
Askren said he had no ties to Johnson County, does not know anyone at the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office or any of the area police departments and has not heard from anyone regarding the matter, other than to receive the criminal case from the court.
The matter is under review, Askren said, but he declined to comment on his process for investigating and reviewing the matter or any possible timetable for a decision on what, if any, charges should be filed against either suspect.
Emkes said she specifically asked Askren if he knew anyone in the prosecutor’s office or if he had any history with Cooper, Adams or any of the suspects. He said he did not, she said.
The questions have been raised because Cooper and Burton have been linked in past cases, including in 2011 when Burton, who was suspended from his police officer job and facing two criminal charges, was fraternizing with Cooper, the elected official who oversees all criminal cases in the county. The charges were later dropped.
This is the second time Cooper has asked for a special prosecutor to review possible criminal charges against Burton. In the 2011 case, which was investigated by the Indiana State Police, Cooper requested a special prosecutor because Burton had been working as an undercover drug detective and had been a witness in multiple cases for the prosecutor’s office.
More recently, Cooper tried to get involved in Emkes’ pick of who should or should not be special prosecutor on the case and had urged Adams not to accept the case, Cooper said. He also emailed his wishes to several people involved in the case.
Cooper has also said that he has reviewed the Burton case and that “there’s no prosecutor in his right mind who is going to file that,” Cooper said, referring to a special prosecutor filing a criminal charge.