MISHAWAKA, Ind. — REAL News Michiana has learned the midnight Captain responsible for covering up a suspected drunk driving incident involving Mayor Dave Wood’s son has been demoted. According to multiple sources, Captain Eric Beckham was put on a short administrative leave and agreed to take a “voluntary” demotion to the rank of Lieutenant and be transferred to the Street Crimes unit.
HISTORY OF EVENTS
On October 28th, 2022, a Mishawaka Police Officer pulled Joe Wood over for suspected OWI. In bodycam video originally obtained by RNM, the initiating officer says he can smell alcohol on the suspect. Wood is also seen stumbling out of his car and admits to drinking with his father earlier in the night. At the beginning of the stop, Joe Wood almost immediately starts asking for the shift commander, Captain Eric Beckham. When Beckham shows up, Wood excitedly calls out his name and walks over to him. Beckham walks Wood out of the video and audio shot of other officers on the scene, making it impossible to know exactly what was discussed. Then, within seconds, Beckham tells Wood to lock up his car as it is being left on the side of the road. He then tells responding officers that he will “take care of it.” Beckham then drove Wood to his dad’s house, who happens to be the Mayor of Mishawaka. While every officer on scene appears to have had their bodycamera running during the interaction, there was no video captured by Captain Beckham.
According to MPD’s own policies and procedures, “Prior to going into service, uniformed members equipped with a portable recorder issued by the Department will be responsible for making sure that the recorder is in good working order. If the recorder is not in working order or the member becomes aware of a malfunction at any time, the member shall promptly report the failure to his/her supervisor and may obtain a functioning device as soon as reasonably practicable.”
RNM was able to confirm that Captain Beckham was in fact wearing his recording device by viewing footage from other officers on the scene. MPD confirmed with RNM that Beckham never activated his body-worn camera.
According to the policy, “Both the video and audio recording functions of the body camera shall be activated whenever a law enforcement officer is responding to a call for service or at the initiation of any other law enforcement or investigative encounter between a law enforcement officer and a member of the public, except that when an immediate threat to the officer’s safety or life makes activating the camera impossible or dangerous, the officer shall activate the camera at the first reasonable opportunity to do so.”
Sources tell RNM that Beckham also owns and operates a private security company. And, sources claim, the Mishawaka Chief of Police happens to work for him in a part-time capacity.
Sources also tell RNM 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.
The traffic stop happened just after midnight on October 28th of last year. According to the initial officer, Joe Wood was speeding, driving erratically and failed to use his turn signal. Wood was driving so fast, it took the officer 10 blocks to catch up to him. When the officer approaches Wood’s vehicle, he sees a gun on the driver’s seat and asks him to step out of the car. Wood stumbles out of the vehicle and then begins to cry. While Wood initially claimed not to have been drinking. However, he finally admits to consuming alcohol with his father earlier in the night.
When the responding officer realizes the suspect is the Mayor’s son, he requests his shift supervisor, Lieutenant Mike Dube, come to assist. Dube initially makes a call to what appears to be another officer. “It’s the Mayor’s son and he’s bombed.” Dube says.
“You didn’t put the drink in his hand. The Captain is on his way.” Dube said to the initial officer, explaining he should treat the mayor’s son and the investigation like any other. “When I saw the address… I was like it’s either the Mayor or one of his kids… Oh well. Do your job.”
CAPTAIN ERIC BECKHAM RESPONSE
Captain Eric Beckham arrives on scene approximately 12 minutes after the stop. The first thing he does is direct officers to start leaving the scene. “Get these cars rolling.” He said.
Joe Wood is sitting on the side of the road when Beckham walks up. When Wood sees him, he immediately shouts “Beckham,” as if greeting an old friend, gets up and walks out of the frame and audio shot of all of the cameras to speak with the Captain. It does not appear that Beckham recorded any of the interaction, as none of that requested video was provided.
Beckham speaks to Wood for approximately 15 seconds before walking back to the initial officer asking why Wood was pulled over. After the officer describes the incident, Beckham starts to speak to Wood again.
“Get in there and turn off that car and get your keys and stuff.” Beckham says to Wood. “Go ahead and lock your car… it’s staying here.”
Beckham then starts to ask the responding officer a few more questsions.
“There was no accident or anything?” Beckham said.
“No.” The officer responded.
“He was just driving like an ass?” Beckham questions.
“Yes sir.” The officer responds.
“Ok. I’ll take care of it.” Beckham then says, putting an end to the investigation.
Sources tell REAL News Michiana Beckham held a meeting with the responding officers later, explaining that “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 traffic stop 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.
The legal department for the City of Mishawaka also initially refused to release all of the audio and video from the traffic stop.
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 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.”
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