Muncie fire chief joins federal lawsuit against city and Muncie police

Fire Chief joins lawsuit against city, police department

MUNCIE, Ind. (WISH) — A federal lawsuit against the city of Muncie, its police department and a city councilwoman has a new plaintiff. It’s the city’s Fire Chief Eddie Bell.

Bell tells News 8 officers ran two unauthorized criminal background checks on him, including less than a week after the police chief reminded officers about the proper procedures.

News 8 broke the story on the original lawsuit last week and sat down for another exclusive on Wednesday night with Bell, just hours after his name was attached.

Bell compares it to the time his house was burglarized and the strange feeling to come home and know someone else was there.

Like the other plaintiffs, he says the common link is Nora Powell.

“I’ve not been pulled over. I’ve not done anything that would have drawn that kind of attention,” Bell said.

The Indiana State Police notified him Friday of the unauthorized criminal background searches. It came four days after Audie Barber, Sarah Beach and Kristopher Bilbrey filed the federal lawsuit on Oct. 21.

“You definitely feel violated,” Bell said.

According to the lawsuit, one officer ran the IDACS search on July 30, exactly one week before a packed and contentious city council meeting. The date was six days after the police chief sent a memo to remind all officers on proper procedures to access the IDACS system.

That was because state police told the department of clear violations of accessing IDACS.

A different officer ran Bell’s name on Sept 1.

“It’s even stranger when you’re a public safety officer and you’ve done nothing but work for the city for the last 34 years,” Bell said. “You don’t expect that. You would think if they were going to pull somebody it wouldn’t be me.”

City councilwoman Nora Powell is the chair of the finance committee. Bell said she asked him for a $2 million budget cut for next year, which is more than 20% of his $10.5 million budget. The similarly-sized police department was asked to cut less than $100,000.

Bell said Powell has also been a critic of his decision to start an EMS service, which began at the end of September.

Plus, Bell ran the unsuccessful run for city council by Beach, one of the other plaintiffs.

“In my mind, the only common denominator would be (Powell) unfortunately that I can come up with,” Bell said.

Powell said at the Aug. 6 council meeting, “I wasn’t involved in any way, shape or form.”

Last week, she issued this statement:

“The allegations asserted against me are just that; allegations. I will aggressively defend against these baseless and groundless accusations and will demonstrate the complaint is without merit.”

Bell said after 34 years of working in the fire department, he wouldn’t expect to be a victim of an unauthorized search.

He said joining the lawsuit isn’t personal.

He declined to say Wednesday what steps should be taken at the police department since he’s not in charge, besides that more training is needed.

He hopes his friendships with current officers and relationship with the city of Muncie will not change.

“This is something that shouldn’t have happened,” Bell said. “It shouldn’t happen to me, it shouldn’t happen to John Q. Public. It just shouldn’t happen to anyone.”

Adding Bell’s name to the lawsuit has also resulted in two Muncie police officers being added: Bryce Dulworth and Joseph Duckham. Other people and entities already named are Nora Powell, the city of Muncie, the police department, and the Fraternal Order of Police. The other five officers are Joshua Carrington, Chase Hunter, Justin Peters, Jon Powell and Brian Ashton.

Count one claims violations of free speech, due process, unreasonable search and invasion of privacy.

Count two claims violations of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Powell and the FOP told News 8 they would stand by their statements from last week.

Police Chief Joe Winkle declined to comment.

Messages left with Mayor Dennis Tyler were not returned.