Indiana Chief Named in Wrongful Arrest Suit

An Indiana fire chief has been named in a federal lawsuit accusing several local officials of false arrest, malicious prosecution, tortious interference with a contract, and violations of the 1st, 4th and 14th Amendments.

The suit was filed by Kristopher Bilbrey naming the City of Winchester, Mayor Shon Byrum, Council President Tom Sells, Councilman Larry Lennington, Councilwoman Leesa Friend, Councilwoman Melissa Williams, Police Chief Richard Tucker, Assistant Police Chief Jon Reed, and Fire Chief Gary Moore as defendants

Bilbrey alleges that he was arrested at a council meeting on November 27, 2017 in violation of his Constitutional rights in retaliation for his opposition to a plan to establish a drug rehab center. According to the complaint, toward the end of a special meeting to discuss the rehab center:

  • Joni Bilbrey made a comment that the Council was expecting her to raise her children next to a Rehab Center.
  • This was followed by numerous people talking over one another.
  • Councilor Lennington singled out Mrs. Bilbrey from all the people in the audience who were talking, shouting to Police Chief Tucker, “Let’s go. Take them out of here.”
  • Chief Tucker moved toward Mrs. Bilbrey, however Mrs. Bilbrey was already getting up to leave, along with Rhonda DeFrees (Bilbrey’s mother).
  • Lennington again shouted, “No! You’re out of order. Let’s go!”
  • Lennington’s shout to the Police Chief was just over thirty seconds after Councilor Friend’s question to the audience about “How much would you pay to save a life?”
  • Bilbrey and Rhonda DeFrees walked out of the meeting room unassisted.
  • Bilbrey also walked to the door. As Mr. Bilbrey was walking through the doors and leaving the room, he said, “You’re out of order. This whole place is out of order. This is a joke.”
  • The statement took less than three seconds and was made as Mr. Bilbrey exited the room.
  • Bilbrey was walking down the hall to join his wife when Chief Tucker said “Bilbrey, you’re under arrest for disorderly conduct.”
  • Bilbrey stopped at which time Tucker grabbed him.
  • Despite a total absence of resistance from Mr. Bilbrey, Chief Tucker and Assistant Chief Jon Reed shoved Mr. Bilbrey against the wall, grabbed his hands and painfully twisted his arms behind him. Fire Chief Moore also took part in forcefully arresting Bilbrey.
  • There was no resistance at any time from Bilbrey, nor did he make any threat of violence or non-cooperation.
  • The treatment of Bilbrey was excessive force and not reasonable.
  • Bilbrey was singled out among all the audience members who made comments to be assaulted and arrested.

Bilbrey is seeking $500,000 in damages for violation of his Constitutional rights and $500,000 in damages for malicious prosecution, false arrest and excessive force, plus punitive damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Bilbrey v Byrum at al

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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