After considering a complaint about comments made about a judge, another judge recommended Prosecutor Brad Cooper receive a public reprimand. The Indiana Supreme Court later agreed, saying he made misleading and inflammatory comments. The discipline is rare for an elected prosecutor and stemmed from comments Cooper made to the media in 2014 regarding a northern Indiana judge who decided that Michael Dean Overstreet, convicted of the 1997 murder of Franklin College student Kelly Eckart, was not competent to be executed.
A 15-year veteran of the Franklin Police Department was fired for what the department’s merit board determined was conduct unbecoming an officer during a domestic dispute at his home. Officer Bryan K. Burton was terminated by the merit commission. He had previously been suspended by the board twice. The decision came after more than eight hours of testimony about Burton’s October 2016 arrest, along with a second charge that he lied to the police chief. Burton later filed a federal lawsuit against the city, alleging he was fired based on his age.
In March, a new $20 million, four-rink complex was proposed to be built at Freedom Park in Greenwood, with the promise of making the city a draw for potentially thousands of visitors a year. But pushback from the community was strong due to the location, and support waned. A few months later, the development was proposed again, this time on land southeast of Interstate 65 and County Line Road that was already slated for a massive retail and entertainment development. The iceplex is to become part of that project.
Johnson County continued to be one of the fastest growing counties in central Indiana, behind Boone, Hamilton and Hendricks counties. Multiple neighborhoods with thousands of new homes were proposed or under construction, along with new businesses, including a FedEx center in Greenwood and speculative buildings in both Franklin and Greenwood. That growth also spurred the addition of grocery stores, including Kroger stores in both Franklin and the Center Grove area, and schools, including a new Center Grove elementary school. Hospitals were also growing, with Johnson Memorial Health breaking ground on a $42 million project, and microhospitals planned in the northern section of the county.
More than 100 suspected drug dealers were arrested in two separate roundups by police, and large amounts of drugs were found in traffic stops and searches of local homes. A man was killed in what was planned as a robbery involving drugs in Greenwood. Local emergency workers continued to routinely use Narcan to revive people having a suspected overdose. And the governor came to Valle Vista Health System to announce the Greenwood mental health and addiction treatment center was one of five newly designated opioid addiction treatment centers in the state.
Planning for I-69
After State Road 37 was selected as the route for the Interstate 69 extension through Johnson County, state officials began drilling down on details, including where interchanges, overpasses and access roads would be built. Residents were asked to continue to give feedback, and that led to some changes, including removing the overpass planned at Stones Crossing Road, thinning the interstate to four lanes through part of the county and finding ways to address traffic on nearby roads, such as with roundabouts. Bargersville and the county also began planning for the future interstate and the development it will bring. Money was also set aside to pay for the section of I-69 through Johnson County, as part of a statewide plan led by former Franklin Mayor and Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Joe McGuinness to invest more than $4.7 billion into roads in the coming years.
A Franklin couple’s nightmare
A man was arrested on multiple felonies after a days-long manhunt and police department policies were changed after a Franklin couple were held at gunpoint in their home. Reese Keith broke into the couple’s home after leaving the nearby Johnson Memorial Hospital, where he had been taken after being arrested in Greenwood on charges related to a hit-and-run crash, police said. Keith tied up the couple, stealing guns, clothing and their car. In light of the case, police changed their policies on how to handle offenders who have been taken to the hospital for treatment, and can’t be taken directly to jail.
New Franklin mayor
A new Franklin mayor had to be selected after the city’s previous leader, Joe McGuinness, accepted a job to lead the Indiana Department of Transportation, a post he was named to by incoming Gov. Eric Holcomb. City council member Steve Barnett was selected over former clerk-treasurer Janet Alexander by a caucus of Republican Party precinct committee members. Barnett was sworn in immediately and will serve as mayor through the end of 2019, when he can then seek election.
Work began to upgrade the Louisville and Indiana Railroad Co. line on the east side of the county, which was given federal approval to be able to run more trains that were longer and faster. The work upgraded crossings throughout the county, from Greenwood to Edinburgh, and was the source of multiple complaints. Drivers reported being rerouted multiple times when crossings were closed for work. When combined with road construction, drivers had few options for travel in downtown Franklin. And while the work was going on, trains were moving significantly slower, leaving drivers to wait 20 minutes or longer for trains to pass by. Local officials worked with railroad officials to try to make the work easier on commuters. Once the work was done, the trains began to slowly speed up, from the previous speed limit if 25 mph to the new maximum of 49 mph, leading to safety concerns. At least two accidents were reported, including one that killed a woman in Edinburgh. Safety upgrades, including new cross arms, were still years away in most of the county, if not longer in Edinburgh.
The state put the county on notice that officials must address overcrowded jail conditions, with the facility being as many as 100 inmates over capacity throughout the year. The question for officials is how to address it. Expansions have been discussed and turned down in the past, and officials have a limited amount of money to work with since a public vote would be required for a project cost of more than $15 million. Residents turned down a jail
expansion in 2010. After an initial deadline of November to submit a plan to the state, that deadline was pushed back to March. But officials also noted that the issue isn’t just about adding beds in the jail and instead said the issues leading to overcrowding, including mental health and addiction issues, must be addressed. Different options were being discussed, including adding new local treatment programs or expanding current ones.