Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hogsett Speaks Out at Knights of Columbus

I had the privilege of attending a Knights of Columbus event where Joe Hogsett, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Indiana, was the featured speaker. Hogsett spoke for about 15 minutes about his background, the role of a US attorney, and then took a few questions from the audience. 

Hogsett mentioned that he had a past life in electoral politics, but seemed to downplay it during the speech. He jokingly said that the school all U.S. district attorneys attend encourages anyone who wants to make policy to resign and run for office. He then reflected he had done that and it didn't work out (he lost a U.S. Senate race to Dan Coats)so he's encouraged to stick with the job he had. 

Hogsett mentioned that when he first got the job, friends and family would mistakenly congratulate him on becoming the Attorney General or a federal judge. So he set out to define what a U.S. district attorney actually does.

Hogsett had a long and impressive list of successful prosecutions at his disposal, ranging from prosecuting foreign nationals living and working within the United States to those involved in human trafficking and public corruption. Most reading this blog are probably aware of most of these cases. But he also mentioned knowing when not to take a case to trial is a decision that he struggles with, but is something all prosecuting attorneys face at one time or another.

What I found most interesting was the first prosecution he mentioned. He said there was a successful drug bust of marijuana early on in his time in charge of the southern district. The drug bust was nicknamed "Operation Five Dollar Foot Long" because the drugs were concealed in Subway packaging. He said 8,000 pounds of marijuana was ceased valued at $5,000,000. I found it interesting that Hogsett highlighted this case first even as the War on Drugs wanes in popularity.

Hogsett emphasized that while much of the major crime noted by mainstream media outlets occurs in the central Indiana area, the district covers 60 counties and some of the deadliest cases happen outside of the Indianapolis area. He said that in the town of Laurel, a shooting ended in five deaths because of a prescription drug deal that went south. He emphasized that a random act of violence can happen anywhere and that it isn't simply an urban or a rural issue.

Hogsett took several questions from the audience, many concerning the topic of violence and how situations too often escalate to physical violence or gun violence too quickly. But the best question was saved for last, where an attendee questioned Hogsett on the effectiveness of the War on Drugs and where he sees how the War might evolve over the next 10 years. Hogsett said that, as a US district attorney, his role isn't to make policy but to enforce the law. Hogsett spoke in generalities, saying that he doesn't believe the legalization argument that taxation and regulation will solve the problems that drug use has on society. He pointed specifically to prescription drugs, which are taxed and regulated, as a growing concern for prosecutors across the country. He did say he'd like to see more rehabilitation so that those who have served their time and can be placed back into society and become productive citizens have the ability to do so.

Hogsett stuck around for a few minutes after the speech and I got a chance to ask him about gun violence, specifically about the involvement of underage youth. I mentioned a story of a 17 year old kid who was picked up with a loaded pistol that had an altered serial number. He said that, unfortunately, the Department of Justice's country-wide policy is that the prosecution of juveniles are left to local authorities but that his office can deal with these situations in more general terms, such as how they obtained a firearm. I also asked him that, with the recent counterfeit currency bust, what should people do if they encounter any on the street. He said to either call the IMPD or the local Secret Service office (317-635-6420).

While I was talking with Hogsett, another attendee came up to him and said he'd support him if he ran for Mayor and Hogsett just grinned. The attendee mentioned Ed DeLaney is also considering and Hogsett said "Ed is a good guy."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Indy Council Should Proceed Cautiously on Panhandling

The Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council is poised to consider a revision to the city's panhandling ordinance. If passed, it would expand the definition of a panhandler and eliminate or severely restrict where panhandling can take within downtown Indianapolis. In recent days, a group of musicians have raised concerns that street performers would be classified as panhandlers and essentially banished from performing within downtown Indianapolis. Angela Mansfield, the chairwoman of the committee where the panhandling proposal originated, voted against it and specifically cited her concerns about how street performers would be classified within the new ordinance.

I've spent a lot of time downtown throughout the years. And I think panhandling is a legitimate issue to be concerned about and that needs to be addressed. What I haven't been convinced of, however, is that this proposal is the answer.

Back in 2009, we were told that a revised panhandling ordinance would solve all the world's problems, that this is something Mayor Ballard wanted to cross off his agenda in his first term. This blog covered it at the time. This blog raised questions, a year later, that panhandling seems to have gotten worse, even in places that the new ordinance specifically regulates (stop signs and traffic lights).

Throughout the entire conversation on panhandling, the ACLU affiliate in Indiana has consistently said they'd likely file a lawsuit over how broad the panhandling ordinance can be if it is revised. No comments have been given publicly that the position of the ACLU has changed, and it seems like both the council backers of this ordinance as well as the Mayor's office could care less what the ACLU has to say.

If you can make it, please join me on December 9th at the full council meeting to publicly oppose this proposal. It starts at 7pm at the City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis.