BEECH GROVE, Ind. (WISH) - You get a parking ticket. You get angry. You begrudgingly pay it. That's the case for the majority of would-be offenders, but not one Indianapolis woman. When Charity Bryan got a parking ticket, first she got angry, and then she called 24-Hour News 8. We started investigating, digging through documents, attending court hearings and we uncovered a disturbing double standard.
Charity Bryan is a wife, a mother of four, an avid Colts fan and one heck of a fighter.
"I believe God left me here for a reason," she told us, as we visited with her on the front porch of her east side home.
A freak accident on a friend's go-cart stole the use of her legs, but it couldn't take her spunk. Doctors witnessed that as weeks stretched into months of intensive rehabilitation. And we witnessed the feisty redhead's fire after she encountered what she believes is Beech Grove justice run amuck.
"This ain't right, and I'm not paying it," said Bryan as she pointed to a $75 parking ticket.
She says she and her husband got the ticket after leaving their van in a parking spot reserved for the handicapped at the Beech Grove Walmart.
"Oh I was mad," said Bryan.
She's had a handicapped placard since her crippling accident five years ago. Her husband always drives her around in one of the family vans just as he did on that day to Walmart. She says the placard had fallen off the rear view mirror and was on the dashboard. When she and her husband discovered the ticket, they were sure police would throw it out.
"So we went to the police station to try to explain it to them, and they told us we had to go to court," said Bryan.
And that's where they went. But Bryan says what happened behind the closed doors of the Beech Grove Traffic Court was a farce.
"The judge was rude. He wouldn't let me talk," said Bryan.
She says the judge gave far more weight to the officer's testimony that her placard wasn't where it was supposed to be. It didn’t matter that she was paralyzed, or that she legally had a placard. In the end, the judge lowered her ticket cost from $75 to $10.50 but tacked on $114.50 in court costs, bringing her ticket cost to $125.
Bryan says the judge didn't sympathize with her plight at all. And what surprised her most is that the honorable Charles Hunter uses a wheelchair.
"He came out in a wheelchair and I thought, 'OK, he'll understand and he'll dismiss it,'" she said.
No such luck. I-Team 8 wanted to know why, so we decided to visit the judge.
"I'm an old timer," Hunter said laughing as he adjusted his microphone.
His self-description is accurate. Judge Hunter is 87. Local GOP leaders brought him out of retirement in 2007 to run for judge of Beech Grove's newly-created traffic court. When we asked him about Charity Hunter's case, the judge said he didn't remember it.
Judge Hunter hears cases once a month and it's been just 14 days since he presided over Charity Bryan's trial, but he has no memory of the case. So we pose a hypothetical scenario.
We asked if someone could indeed prove that they had a handicapped placard and they were indeed disabled, even if the placard wasn't where it was supposed to be, would he dismiss the ticket?
"If they actually were disabled and they had a placard I wouldn't find them guilty, no," he said.
That was interesting considering the fact he had done so in the Bryan's case. I-Team investigators asked the judge to take a second look at the case, and he agrees.
After a week Judge Hunter promised to take a second look at Charity and Robert Bryan's parking ticket. It's back to court, and this time I was there to watch. The proceeding is, by my clock, 2 minutes and 48 seconds. When Bryan argues she is paralyzed and her handicapped placard had fallen off her rear view mirror, Judge Hunter dismisses the argument with a wave of his hand.
"I believe this is how they make their revenue, their money," said Charity Bryan after leaving court.
In 2009, the traffic court brought in just over $86,034.50 for the city of Beech Grove. But running the court is expensive. Subtract the judge's part time pay, which is $42,000. Salaries for the clerk, bailiff and other professional services total $115,878. Benefits total $8,560. That brings the court's total 2009 budget to more than 166,400 dollars last year. That means the traffic court ended 2009 more than $80,400 in the red. And they're going need to bring in more money to break even this year.
Beech Grove city county treasurer, Chris Duffer, told I-Team 8 the city traffic court opened two years ago with the hopes that it would become a revenue source for the city.
I-Team 8 investigators want to ask the judge that very question, and we wait for him outside the court. It's then that we spot a car parked in right in front of the door in a handicapped spot. There is neither a placard on the mirror nor a handicapped designation on the license plate.
And so we waited. We had to know who owns the car parked illegally in a handicapped spot right in front