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Fight between man, Elkhart police officer causes community tension

A fight that sent one Elkhart police officer to the hospital left residents along West Garfield Avenue on edge all weekend. Some say police are retaliating because of the officer’s injuries.

Posted on July 8, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.

ELKHART — Residents in one Elkhart neighborhood say police swarmed their area last weekend in retaliation after an Elkhart police officer was attacked and seriously injured.

A Chicago man faces seven charges for the attack, which resulted in the officer’s hospitalization, according to police reports.

The fight happened Thursday night, July 3, in the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue on the south side of Elkhart.

Some residents claim the neighborhood then was inundated with an excessive police presence during the holiday weekend and complained that some were issued citations for jaywalking and riding a bike without a bell. Police gave few comments on the incident but said they responded only in reference to received complaints. Records also show that those citations were indeed written.

Residents are suggesting the increased patrols and excessive interaction came after a group of people who watched the fight did not come to the aid of the officer.

The incident began about 9:30 p.m. when Reese Tommy Haithcox, 21, crossed Garfield Avenue to talk with a woman seated in a car, residents said.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed in Elkhart Superior Court 5, a police officer driving his squad car through the area ordered Haithcox to get out of the road, where he was blocking traffic, and Haithcox replied with an expletive.

The officer, Cpl. Dustin Young, then got out of his squad car and asked for identification. Haithcox said he was from Chicago and then “got into Cpl. Young’s face,” according to the affidavit.

After Young took a step back, Haithcox reached into the inner portion of his waistband several times.

Young ordered Haithcox to remove his hand from the waistband and then grabbed Haithcox’s arm. Haithcox responded by pushing Young to the ground, landing on top of the officer and punching him in the face.

The police report said Haithcox struck Young in the face at least 15 times, causing a fracture of Young’s eye socket.

A second officer, Cpl. Cody Skipper, who wrote the affidavit, arrived by the time Young was able to kick Haithcox off of him.

Haithcox attempted to flee and was chased by Young and Skipper, who tackled him.

Haithcox continued to resist and was shot twice with a stun gun. Even with the arrival of a third officer, Haithcox continued to resist until he was placed into a squad car.

Haithcox also is accused of trying to grab the officer’s gun during the fight.

He was booked at the Elkhart County Jail on preliminary felony charges of aggravated battery, disarming a law enforcement officer, three counts of battery on a police officer and resisting arrest. He also faces misdemeanor charges of fleeing police and obstructing traffic.

His bond was set at $75,000, and he still was incarcerated as of Tuesday afternoon, July 8.

Some residents contend police increased the patrols along Garfield Avenue after the fight and began harassing people in the area.

Lottie Smart, who lives at 124 W. Garfield Ave., said she noticed an increase in patrols soon after the fight.

Her 29-year old son was arrested Friday for disorderly conduct during a skirmish on their front porch.

She said she saw one man ticketed for jaywalking and another ticketed for not having a bell on his bicycle.

“They've been mad ever since that officer got beat up,” Smart said.

She claims police have been rude, and they have been cussing at residents.

“It was ugly all weekend,” she said.

The circumstances came up Monday night during an Elkhart City Council meeting in which representatives of the neighborhood coincidentally had planned to invite council to a public discussion on youth violence in the area.

Following the invitation by Leighton Johnson, another resident, Jason Moreno, addressed the council about what he called simmering tensions in the neighborhood.

Moreno said he’s also heard that increased patrols were because of a lack of assistance from the neighborhood during the fight.

Moreno said some people told him they were leery of getting involved in the fight for fear of their own safety while others didn’t seem to care.

“It’s unfortunate situation for everyone who was involved, but I do know that people were literally scared to go out this weekend,” Moreno said.

Police offered few details other than what was contained in the probable cause affidavit.

Assistant Chief Laura Koch, who attended the council meeting, was asked about complaints of excessive patrolling and said police “have been down there in reference to complaints received.”

Lt. Mike Sigsbee said citations like the ones residents described are not uncommon, and the department had issued 70 citations so far in July for minor infractions as of Tuesday morning, July 8.

Of those citations, only three were issued in the area of the fight: one for not crossing the street at a marked intersection, one for failure to use the sidewalk and one for riding a bicycle without a bell.

So far this year, the Elkhart Police Department has issued five citations and 24 warnings for bicycle violations throughout the city, 11 citations and nine warnings for not crossing the street at a marked intersection and 14 citations and 35 warnings for not using the sidewalk, Sigsbee said.

Reporter Emily Pfund contributed to this report.



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