Two local police departments are changing their policies for how officers determine whether to stay with a suspect who needs medical treatment before taking them to jail, or release the person and pursue a charge later.

The changes were prompted after Greenwood police decided to walk away and leave a man at Johnson Memorial Hospital for medical treatment after arresting him following a hit-and-run crash. The suspect was driving a stolen vehicle and had syringes in his pocket and drug paraphernalia in his vehicle.

When police found him after he ran from the crash, he began having seizures and said he was injured in the accident. An overdose was suspected. He was taken to a hospital three times, and on the third trip, a doctor ordered him admitted to the hospital in Franklin. Officers had intended to have him booked into the jail.

Greenwood police made the decision to release him from custody and pursue a warrant for his arrest, rather than leave an officer to guard the suspect, Reese L. Keith, for at least overnight, because he hadn’t committed a violent crime and wasn’t believed to be a danger to anyone else.

But Keith left the hospital hours after police had released him and broke into an elderly Franklin couple’s home, police said. He tied them up, robbing them of guns, medication and their vehicle, in a neighborhood near the hospital on Monday afternoon, police said.

A manhunt is underway, and Keith is facing eight felony and misdemeanor charges relating to both incidents. Franklin police and the U.S. Marshals are searching for him.

The incident has prompted two police departments to change their policies and procedures regarding suspects who need medical attention before being detained at the Johnson County jail. Sheriff Doug Cox will not permit suspects to be booked in as inmates if they are having a medical episode.

“If they are collapsing on the police department, then they are not coming in,” Cox said. As sheriff, he must work to prevent any inmates from dying while in custody, he said. Cox is in charge of the Johnson County jail and has instructed his staff to refuse to accept any inmates who need immediate medical care. His sheriff’s office deputies are instructed to stay guard at the hospital over any suspect they are arresting who needs to be booked at the jail on felony charges.

Current Greenwood policies only required officers to get permission from a supervisor if they were to leave a suspect at a hospital and choose to arrest them later with a warrant. Officers make a decision based on whether they believe the person is violent and poses a threat to others, he said. This is based on the charges the person is being arrested on and other information from their criminal history, if that is available.

The Greenwood Police Department will now seek permission from a Johnson County judge before leaving a suspect unsupervised at a hospital. An on-call prosecutor and county judge will have to approve before police leave a suspect at the hospital. That decision will still be based on whether the suspect is a danger to the community.

Franklin Police Chief Tim O’Sullivan said he will move to put in place the same policy that Greenwood is adopting, because occasionally some night-shift officers have made the same decision that Greenwood police did late Sunday: To release a suspect at the hospital rather than wait to take him to jail.

While at Johnson Memorial Hospital, the officers contacted their supervising officer, who determined that Keith wasn’t a threat to anyone else and could be left unsupervised at the hospital, Greenwood Police Assistant Chief Matt Fillenwarth said. Officers were given permission to leave and write their probable cause affidavit the next day and pursue an arrest warrant, he said.

The decision to leave Keith at the hospital was directly in line with department policy, he said.

The officers had no information from Keith’s arrested that would have indicated that he would go on to rob an elderly Franklin couple at gunpoint and steal their car, Fillenwarth said. A 90-year-old man and his 88-year-old wife were bound with duct tape to a chair and a walker.

Information about Keith’s background, whose criminal record includes a 2010 conviction for battery, wasn’t immediately available because he had not provided police with his correct name and hadn’t been booked into the jail and fingerprinted, Fillenwarth said.

Franklin police officers will begin contacting the prosecutor’s office and getting a judge’s decision on whether to release a person on their own recognizance or leave an officer with a suspect at a hospital, O’Sullivan said. He will put that policy in place in the coming weeks, he said

Typically, suspects who need medical treatment before being taken to the hospital have mental health issues, are drunk or were injured in a criminal incident. Violent suspects require two police officers, which can pose a challenge if the department is receiving many calls for help, O’Sullivan said. In many cases, hospital security is asked to watch a suspect, but those security officers have other responsibilities throughout the hospital, O’Sullivan said.

Johnson County Prosecutor Brad Cooper decried the decision to release Keith at the hospital.

“When you bring this Indianapolis criminal, with all the crimes they arrested him for, if you arrest him and transport him to Franklin he is your responsibility,” he said. “You don’t just leave him here and go.”

Police officers don’t have an legal obligation to contact the prosecutor’s office prior to releasing someone at a hospital, but would be encouraged to do so, Cooper said.

Cooper said he would be supportive of any policy change where police would always check with his office and a judge in similar situations, saying he has staff on call around the clock to handle those situations.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputies will continue to keep watch over suspects being treated at the hospital, even for days at a time if necessary, in any case involving a felony charge, Cox said.

If a Johnson County Sheriff’s Office deputy would arrest a suspect accused of a felony, but the suspect needed medical treatment, a deputy would remain with the suspect until he was medically fit to be booked into jail, which could last for hours or days, Cox said. As sheriff, he could call in more deputies to work if needed, or see if a jailer could go to the hospital to watch over the inmate, he said.

If a person is accused of driving under the influence but complains of pain from a car crash, a deputy will stay with the suspect, be it for hours or days, until the person is able to be booked into jail.

Deputies are constantly with suspects at hospitals both in Franklin and in Indianapolis, overnight or for days while the suspect is being treated.

“It’s a huge challenge for us to watch over an inmate,” Cox said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”

Cox has a budget to allow for manpower to cover these types of scenarios.

In some situations, he is in favor of an officer writing a citation and not making an outright arrest, such as for driving while suspended.

But if a suspect is accused of a felony, had been involved in a hit-and-run crash and was under the influence or had needles in their possession, sheriff’s deputies will not release the person and pursue a warrant later, Cox said. He favors deputies making outright arrests on suspects accused of felonies, rather than pursing a warrant, even if it means leaving a deputy at the hospital for an extended period of time.

“That’s somebody that’s not going to bypass the jail,” Cox said.

In fact, a deputy would face sanctions if he or she did not stay with the suspect and bring them to the jail after the person was medically cleared, he said.

“There is no get out of jail free card,” he said.

“We all struggle with manpower issues,” Cox said. “We get that.”

At a glance

How police respond

Here are the ways local police departments respond when a suspect needs treated at a hospital before being booked into the Johnson County jail.

Franklin Police Department: Changing its policy and will require officers to contact and get permission from the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office and a county judge before releasing a suspect at the jail IS THIS EVEN MISDEMEANORS. The decision could also be made that an officer must stay. WHAT WAS POLICY OR GUIDELINE OR UNWRITTEN RULES

Greenwood Police Department: Changing its policy and will require officers to contact and get permission from the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office and a county judge before releasing a suspect at the jail. The decision could also be made that an officer must stay. The previous policy was that officers had to get permission from a supervisor prior to leaving a suspect at a hospital.

Johnson County Sheriff’s Office: Continuing its policy of requiring a deputy to stay with a suspect during medical treatment, even if it stretches into days, in all cases involving felony arrests. In some instances, such as a driving while suspended arrest, a deputy could issue a citation and release the suspect.

Click here to see timeline of events: http://www.dailyjournal.net/?p=285555&preview_id=285555&preview_nonce=971d074a14&post_format=standard&preview=true

The search for Reese L. Keith: http://www.dailyjournal.net/?p=285905&preview_id=285905&preview_nonce=ea9d252405&post_format=standard&preview=true

Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.