Vigo sheriff's deputy pleads to disorderly conduct

A Vigo County sheriff's deputy has been reinstated to active duty in a 4-0 vote by the sheriff's merit board.

Jeff Bell, an 18-year veteran with the department, will lose his rank of first sergeant and its associated pay and return to the rank of deputy as of Tuesday.

Bell was suspended in April following his arrest on a charge of domestic battery. Sheriff John Plasse's initial 15-day suspension of Bell was followed by an agreement to place Bell on unpaid leave until Bell's court case was resolved.

On Sept. 2, Bell entered a guilty plea to a charge of disorderly conduct, a Class B misdemeanor, in Vigo Superior Court 4 to resolve the case. The plea agreement dismissed original charges of interference with reporting a crime and two counts of domestic battery, all misdemeanors.

On Monday evening, merit board members Rich Jenkins, Jeff Lee, Mark Miller, Mike Vicars and Derrick Scott joined an online meeting with Sheriff John Plasse and sheriff's office attorney Craig McKee; Bell and his attorney Joseph Etling; and Chief Deputy Steve Ming and Deputy Derek Fell, chief of operations, to discuss action.

Plasse made the recommendation to the merit board that Bell be reinstated. He noted that Bell has lost $21,000 in pay due to his unpaid leave, calling that a “significant penalty.”

Bell has provided the sheriff with proof of successful completion of an anger management class.

In discussion among the merit board members, some said they had been contacted by current deputies who were opposed to Bell being reinstated. However, Scott said he is aware of other city police officers and firefighters who have been guilty of more serious violations and allowed to remain employed with their departments.

Plasse said Bell has no previous disciplinary actions in his 18 years with the department.

McKee noted that a record of this action will be in Bell's personnel file and will be accessible to future merit boards and sheriffs.

When Bell was asked by merit board member Lee how he will handle criticism from the public or other deputies about the trust lost because of the misdemeanor conviction, Bell said he was aware that criticism could come.

“It will just take time,” Bell said.

The meeting ended with a 4-0 vote. Miller was unable to vote due to losing connection with the meeting.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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