ELKHART — No question about it — Elkhart police beefed up its presence along Garfield Avenue after the the July 3 attack on a policeman in the neighborhood.
That’s what neighbors have said all along — some blasted the reaction as heavy-handed — and that’s what new data from the Elkhart Police Department show. The six entries on the police activity log for the neighborhood for July 3 increased to 33 on July 4, the data show, before falling to 11 on July 5.
Five citations were issued in the area on July 4 and 5 for relatively minor infractions such as jaywalking and riding a bicycle without a bell, compared to none a week earlier, according to police records.
“They were patrolling up and down,” said Steve Robinson, who lives in the 500 block of West Garfield Avenue, four blocks from the site of the July 3 incident. “Any infraction they would see, they would stop people.”
While not condoning the beating of Cpl. Dustin Young by Reese Haithcox, a 21-year-old man from Chicago, Robinson and some others blast what they saw as an overreaction to the July 3 incident. They also charged that the neighborhood, a lower-income enclave located south of the city center that’s home to a concentration of African-Americans and Hispanics, has been subject to overtly aggressive policing before.
Lottie Smart, who lives on Garfield Avenue across from where the incident took place, described a neighborhood teeming with police in the weekend that followed the incident, some in vehicles, some on bikes. Some officers would park in their cars on the streets and watch, others would drive the neighborhood. Pedestrians and others would get questioned for seemingly minor things, like walking their dog in the street.
"I’m telling you, police would go this way, police would go that way,” Smart said. Garfield Avenue is a residential street of older, one- and two-story homes.
Even so, Elkhart police defended the response. The heightened effort — described previously by officials as simply a reaction to calls from the public, though it appears some of the increased activity stemmed from the initiative of officers — wasn’t retaliation. Rather, it was a bid to make neighbors feel more secure.
“This was not assertion of authority. Our presence was, again, to make residents feel safer,” Capt. Kris Seymore said in an email Wednesday, Aug. 6. “Someone, not from the neighborhood, not a local person, had caused a problem. That is a concern.”
Haithcox, 21, attacked Young after the officer instructed the man, standing in the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue, to get out of the street because he was blocking traffic, according to a police affidavit (see the sidebar for more). The attack left the police officer with a fractured eye socket.
Police, though they met with neighbors on July 18 over the response, hadn’t said much publicly about the aftermath of the incident. After police officials released its activity log in response to a formal request by The Elkhart Truth, Seymore elaborated, again in response to Elkhart Truth queries.
The police official noted long-standing requests from some in the neighborhood for a stronger police presence due to worries about gunfire, vandalism, people blocking streets and more. More immediately, it was the Independence Day weekend and more officers were on duty to help with patrolling across the city, also a factor in the heightened police presence.
“Then we have an incident reinforcing the need for additional patrols for the safety of the public and our officers,” Seymore wrote in an email.
The July 3 incident occurred when Cpl. Dustin Young of the Elkhart Police Department instructed Reese Haithcox via his patrol car’s loudspeaker to get out of the street, the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue.
The 21-year-old, from Chicago, was allegedly blocking traffic.
Haithcox said “f--- you” and when Young subsequently exited the car to follow up, the man “got into CPL. Young’s face,” according to a police affidavit
A struggle ensued, according to the affidavit, and Haithcox struck the officer in the face at least 15 times, fracturing his eye socket. Haithcox attempted to disarm Young, but Young shielded his weapon, sustaining injuries to his right hand and both arms.
Another officer arrived, Cpl. Cody Skipper, and Haithcox was ultimately subdued, after being shot twice with a stun gun, the affidavit said. The Chicago man now faces several felony charges and remains in the Elkhart County jail.
Officials wouldn’t comment on Young’s status.
SIX INCIDENTS ON JULY 3, 33 ON JULY 4
The data provided to The Elkhart Truth by police consist of brief, one- and two-line logs of activity involving the varied patrol officers on the force, event by event, from June 26 to July 10 for the entire city.
Notably, the numbers show the spike in activity on July 4 on and around Garfield Avenue and they suggest that at least some of the action was initiated by officers, not necessarily calls from the public. That counters earlier police contentions that the heightened activity was a direct response to public calls for assistance.
In reviewing the data to gauge police action in response to the July 3 attack, The Elkhart Truth tallied incidents that occurred on Garfield Avenue. Also counted were incidents in the 100 and 200 blocks of Indiana and Cleveland avenues, to the north and south of Garfield Avenue, adjacent to where the Young attack occurred.
From six to 33: The number of incidents police responded to in the Garfield Avenue area totaled three on July 2 and six on July 3.
They jumped to 33 on July 4, a Friday and the day after Haithcox is charged with attacking Young.
On July 5 they dipped to 11 and then fell to two on July 6.
The incidents don’t just reflect emergency calls for assistance from the public. They also reflect other occurrences — errant drivers, suspicious people, non-criminal activity — that drew officers’ attention and prompted them to act in the course of their patrols. Some incidents result in formal reports, arrests or citations, but most don’t, and the individual event listings provided to The Elkhart Truth give only the most general of information.
Heightened focus: Being a holiday, when people sometimes cut loose and get rowdy, the July 4 spike could theoretically be attributed to increased rambunctiousness.
However, the police department numbers show a big spike in the share of incidents in the Garfield Avenue area, but not the rest of the city, suggesting a heightened police focus in the zone. On July 3, 2.9 percent of all incidents across Elkhart were in the Garfield Avenue area, or six of 208. That ballooned to 13.6 percent on July 4 (33 of 243) before dipping to 5.1 percent on July 5 (11 of 217) and 1.2 percent on July 6 (two of 164).
The total tally of incidents in Elkhart a week before didn’t vary much from the Independence Day count — 238 on June 27 compared to the 243 on July 4. But the share of incidents in the Garfield Avenue area boomed, from three on June 27 to the 33 of Independence Day.
Many vehicle stops, five citations: The police coding in the logs indicates that 15 of the 44 incidents on July 4 and 5 in the Garfield Avenue area represented police interaction and queries with pedestrians, people on bicycles and others in the public.
Another 13 were coded to reflect vehicle stops.
Public calls for assistance can result in police handling such incidents, 28 of the 44 in the neighborhood on July 4 and 5. But they also typically result from what officers see while on patrol. That suggests much of the heightened activity on July 4 and 5 was probably officer-initiated.
Preliminary records from the police department indicate at least five tickets were issued on July 4 and 5 for infractions that occurred in the Garfield Avenue area, compared to none a week earlier. Police provided the records this week after a formal request from The Elkhart Truth.
On July 4, a 24-year-old was cited for jaywalking and an 18-year-old was cited for not using the sidewalk, both in the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue. Also that day, a 22-year-old was cited for violating the city’s noise ordinance a block to the north in the 200 block of Indiana Avenue. On July 5, a 21-year-old was cited in the 100 block of East Garfield Avenue for not using the sidewalk and a 17-year-old was cited in the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue for not having a bicycle bell.
Just two of the 33 events on July 4 resulted in written incident reports. One of the 11 on July 5 resulted in such a report. The Elkhart Truth requested copies of the reports, but hadn’t yet received a response from authorities as of Thursday, Aug. 7.
Five officers, between them, handled 27 of the 44 events on July 4 and 5, with one officer responsible for 11. Fifteen officers handled the other 17.
’THE DOG WAS CUTE’
To be sure, Haithcox has generated condemnation from residents in the south side.
“We don’t condone that kind of behavior. That guy was wrong for doing the officer that way,” said Robinson, who is involved with the Elkhart Community Roundtable, a neighborhood group focused on south side issues.
But though more than a month has passed since the July 3 incident, the sensation remains, at least among some, that police can be unnecessarily aggressive at times when patrolling the south side.
The response after July 3 “is not the first time something like this has happened,” Robinson said. “I think they were retaliatory.”
Smart, the woman who lives across the street from where the Garfield Avenue incident took place, remembers one officer stopped a man walking his dog in the street in the days after July 3. The officer asked the dog walker for identification and ran a check on it, eventually letting him go without a ticket.
Smart, a 25-year resident of the area, subsequently asked the man what had happened. She had been watching from her porch.
The officer told him “that the dog was cute, but he had to get out of the street,“ she said.