MISHAWAKA, Ind. — An official with the State of Indiana has directed an attorney with the City of Mishawaka to release the video regarding the cover-up of a suspected OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) case involving the 21-year-old son of the city’s mayor to REAL News Michiana. This comes following an RNM investigation into the incident in which we discovered a Captain within the department, Eric Beckham, decided to drive the Mayor’s son to the Mayor’s house after he was pulled over for a suspected OWI — then directed his subordinate officers to forget about situation.
An attorney for the City of Mishawaka, Pat Hinkle, initially claimed they would not be releasing all of the audio and video surrounding the incident claiming it was procedural and not subject to public records laws. Hinkle claimed he was basing his decision from advice he was given by the state's Public Access Counselor (PAC), who oversees the law regarding public records requests in Indiana. However, Hinkle did not disclose that the incident involved the Mayor's son or any other details regarding the alleged cover-up of the crime when making his inquiry, despite nearly all of the public records laws in the country are heavily based on context. After being notified about the context regarding the request of the video, the PAC sent an email to Hinkle and RNM advising the City should release most, if not all, of the video and audio.
"I recently held in an opinion regarding the Fort Wayne mayor that his DUI arrest and jail booking held an elevated level of public interest. The same would extend to a family member of a public official." Indiana Public Access Counselor, Luke Britt wrote in his email. "To ensure that the public is confident that nothing improper took place or that the family member is not getting preferential treatment, you may want to give second thought to releasing the conversation. Body cam footage is a great investigatory tool, but it was also intended to be an accountability tool as well."
"Mr. French has standing to request a copy under 5.2. Section 5.1 simply gives an enhanced (and absolute) right for someone depicted on the video to view the footage without question. 5.2 simply includes some practicalities for the law enforcement agency to balance." Britt continued. "In this case, I’d recommend giving considerable deference to the public’s right to know and redactions should be minimal at best. My prior message stands in principle, but it is also context-specific."
RNM is currently waiting for a response from Hinkle to determine when we can expect to get a copy of the requested recordings.
According to reports, the incident involving Mayor Dave Wood's 21-year-old son happened just after midnight on October 28th, 2022. A low ranking officer pulled Joe Wood over for suspected OWI. Learning that the suspect was the Mayor's son, the officer called for his shift supervisor. REAL News Michiana spoke to the shift supervisor, but is not naming him out of fear of retaliation. According to the shift supervisor, when he got to the scene of the traffic stop, he told the officer to do his job, treating the Mayor's son like anyone else. However, shortly after, the shift commander, Captain Eric Beckham, arrived on scene and quickly started to cover-up the suspected crime.
According to multiple sources at MPD, Captain Beckham pulled up to the scene, put the Mayor's son into his car and drove him to the Mayor's home. The Mayor's son also had a firearm with him. Captain Beckham also took possession of the firearm. Beckham later told all of the officers "it will be easier for everyone if we just forget about this happening."
The shift supervisor tells RNM that he went to Mishawaka Chief of Police, Ken Witkowski, as a whistleblower. However, his complaint about how the situation was handled was ignored. Within weeks, of the incident involving the Mayor's son, the shift supervisor had been demoted from Lieutenant to Patrolman. He has since retired from MPD and found a new job outside of the agency.
According to sources, Captain Beckham and Mayor Wood have an extremely close relationship. Sources say Beckham is on the short list to be appointed by the Mayor as the next MPD Chief.
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This could have been a valuable learning experience for the mayor’s son. Now there is going to be considerable expense to the people of Mishawaka and likely the loss of at least one police office due to his exceedingly poor judgement. It is a poor reflection on the mayor’s judgement that he allowed his police department and legal to aid and abet the “cover-up.” This is the kind of monkey business you expect from South Bend.
[…] MPD Captain Covers up suspected DUI involving Mayor’s son State orders MPD to release video in Mayor’s son’s DUI cover-up case […]