When Ed Windbigler became Elkhart’s police chief in January 2016, one of his first tasks was selecting his top command staff.
For assistant chief, his second in command, Windbigler named Todd Thayer. Less than three years before, Thayer had been demoted two ranks for making flippant comments about a fatal shooting. Witnesses reported he said a fellow officer could now check shooting a person off his “bucket list.”
For patrol captain, Windbigler named Brent Long. Less than two years before, Long had received a four-day suspension for sending inappropriate emails to fellow officers. One email included gruesome photos of a man in another city who, while running from police, jumped or fell from an overpass and was decapitated on a wrought-iron fence.
Fifteen of them have served suspensions, including Windbigler himself, who was once suspended for three days and ordered to pay punitive damages in a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force.
One officer promoted to sergeant by Windbigler has been disciplined more than two dozen times, once for using police communications equipment to refer to “white power.” Another sergeant choked a man in custody. Another failed to report domestic violence by a fellow officer, who had battered a woman and shot her cat. Still another habitually skipped mandatory training and then lied about why, saying he had been attending to police union business.
At least three current supervisors have been convicted of crimes during their careers.
Seven have opened fire in at least one fatal shooting. One officer made sergeant by Windbigler fired his gun in three fatal shootings in a little more than four years, including one that led to a lawsuit and settlement. Another used his Taser on a high school student while working as a resource officer, then, a week later, shot and killed a man who turned out to be unarmed.