Home » Indy’s witness assistance program aims to break the code of silence

Indy’s witness assistance program aims to break the code of silence

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INDIANAPOLIS — The city of Indianapolis spent $200,000 in 2022 to keep witnesses safe and their families safe before they testify in court.

In some cases, money moved people out of dangerous places or installed home security systems. He also repaired cars and paid for bus passes.

This funding comes from the Victim Witness Assistance Program launched in 2018. The program aims to ensure the safety of witnesses and lower barriers that may prevent them from cooperating with police investigations.

City officials used the funds to move homeless witnesses to temporary housing. Also, to pay for food, rent, clothing, diapers, pet food, or anything else that helps ensure your own safety and security by agreeing to have witnesses speak up and bring criminals to justice. is also used.

And in a county that has seen a record number of murders each year in three of the last four years, the program is one of the keys to holding people accountable and curbing violence, officials said. says.

Vic Rickert/WRTV

Melissa Jude

“You know there’s a North Niche code, right?” said Melissa Jude of Indianapolis. “But in some of these cases there may be people who cannot live with themselves because of what they have done or what they have organized or witnessed.

“The question was always, ‘If I showed up and was able to solve at least some of these murders, what would you do to protect me?

Melissa Jude understands the need for a program to help witnesses who fear retaliation for cooperating with police. Her 20-year-old son Chandler Bushey was murdered near Arsenal Park on the North Side on June 12, 2020.

Chandler Bushey 1.jpg

Submitted by Melissa Jude

Chandler Bushey

“Our family is definitely hurt to this day by the loss of him,” Jude said. “He definitely played a big part in bringing us all together.”

Jude is one of the founders of Parents Forever for Justice, an organization that supports and advocates for those who have lost loved ones to violence. Witness assistance programs can only solve crimes and bring criminals to justice, she said.

The county launched the Victim Witness Assistance Program, or V-WAP for short, in 2018.

The program does not give the witness a new identity. While it won’t cover everything a witness might need, officials say it’s enough money to help people get through the difficult patches often caused by cooperating with investigators.

“It’s called the Assistance Program because it’s just an assist,” said Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. “With more resources, we can give more to the people we come into contact with every day. “

Officials say the program appears to have had an impact.

“It had a direct impact on the prosecutor’s office and our ability to pursue prosecutions,” Mears said.

According to Mears’ office, there were 35 murder trials that resulted in sentencing in 2015, and 22 murder cases were dismissed.

In 2019, there were 35 murder trials that resulted in verdicts, and only two were dismissed.

Carlett Duffy.jpg

Vic Rickert/WRTV

carlet duffy

“I can’t say that more witnesses have come forward,” said Carlett Duffy, deputy director for programs and administration at the Public Health and Safety Administration. “Each year, the funds are being used more and more, and more and more families and individuals are being served because of their willingness to fight crime and violence in their communities.”

Here’s how some of the money was spent:

  • The night before Darin Banks was put on trial in 2019 for spraying a house in which he wounded a 19-year-old woman and murdered 1-year-old Malaysian Robeson, prosecutors said one person’s life was in danger. I knew there was a threat. eyewitness. Mears’ office used witness assistance funds and took the witness to a hotel room. Banks was sentenced to her 53 years in prison.
  • In another case, a victim testified against a man convicted of armed robbery, neglect of dependents, and other crimes in 2018. The victim’s safety was threatened just before the sentencing hearing, so prosecutors acted quickly to put him in a hotel. Suspect Paris Duncan was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

“These are the things we can offer people, they provide peace of mind, and they have also been able to convict many people of violent crimes.

Indianapolis will have 271 homicides in 2021. Last year in Marion County he had 226 murders. About two-thirds of the murders in Indianapolis remain unsolved.

City and county council member Leroy Robinson, who chairs the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Commission, said witness assistance funds help, but there are serious problems behind the recent surge in violence.

“Programs alone don’t work,” Robinson said. “There needs to be a cultural change in the way many people in our community think and think that snitching is wrong. Snitching only happens when you get involved. It’s not snitching.”

Melissa Jude and Chandler Bushey.JPEG

Submitted by Melissa Jude

Melissa Jude and Chandler Bushey

The death of Jude’s son Chandler Bushey remains unsolved. She said the city isn’t doing enough to let people know that there is help for witnesses to testify.

“Even if it’s just one case, if the program solves one case, it has served its purpose,” said Jude.

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert ([email protected]) or Twitter (@vicryc).

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