ANDERSON, Ind. - An ousted police officer has gotten his badge back after two arrests involving alcohol impairment behind the wheel.
Fired Anderson Police Department officer Steven Ohlheiser, 53, told the Call 6 Investigators he has undergone treatment for his past problems. He rejected the notion that the two arrests show a pattern of alcohol problems, calling them both part of the same problem for which he has now received treatment.
"I don’t think it will affect my judgment," he said minutes after the Anderson Public Safety Board voted to reinstate him to the police force on Thursday evening. The reinstatement was recommended by city lawyers in order to settle a lawsuit that Ohlheiser filed against the city over his termination.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," he said, adding that he wants to collect his pension after a 16-year "unblemished service record."
He called law enforcement his "life’s calling" and said he wants to have a "good ending to a good career."
Court records obtained by the Call 6 Investigators show he was arrested on August 17, 2008 at a sobriety checkpoint in Fishers as a concert was letting out nearby.
Police wrote in their report that he had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. He failed several field sobriety tests, and a portable breath test showed a 0.188 percent blood-alcohol content, which is more than double the 0.08 limit for driving legally in Indiana.
Ohlheiser is a licensed attorney and court dockets reflect he vigorously fought the charges until pleading guilty on February 9, 2010. He was sentenced to serve two days in the Hamilton County Jail and then serve 180 days of probation.
During that probation, he was arrested again on April 27, 2010 in Anderson when a Madison County sheriff’s deputy reported finding him passed out behind the wheel of his car. He was booked on a misdemeanor charge of public intoxication, which was later dismissed by prosecutors.
The new arrest did result in his probation being revoked from the original case. After admitting to violating his probation on June 7, 2010, he was sent to Hamilton County Jail for 29 days.
"It is what it is," said Ohlheiser, when Call 6 Investigators asked him whether two alcohol arrests would indicate a pattern that may affect his law enforcement duties in the future.
He said he no longer drinks and has successfully completed treatment for the dependency.
Ohlheiser has been serving as an assistant prosecutor, even prosecuting drunken driving cases in Madison County Circuit 5 Court.
His boss, Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he has done exceptional work on that job, and he said Ohlheiser will be an asset to the police department just the same.
"He deserves a second chance," Cummings said.
"For someone to suggest he doesn’t deserve a second chance, they live in a different world than I do," Cummings said.
He said he was aware of both arrests right after they happened, and he never felt either would impact Ohlheiser’s ability to uphold the law. "He’s redeemed himself," said Cummings, who blames politics for the second arrest.
Cummings said the prior leadership of the police department was out to get Ohlheiser when the second arrest happened. He said a different prosecutor quickly dropped the case because there was insufficient evidence.
Nevertheless, Cummings said Ohlheiser did have a problem when he was first arrested. He said the dependency issue clearly showed that Ohlheiser should not have been an officer at that time.
Cummings also said it is not unusual for a police officer, a prosecutor or even a judge in the Indianapolis area to serve despite a drunken driving conviction. A former police officer himself, Cummings said he believed numerous officers on the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department are serving in spite of Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated conviction, as well as prosecutors and judges in several counties in the area.
Cummings said he has closely monitored Ohlheiser’s prosecution work, as well as his dependency treatment and he has always been satisfied with the progress.
An attorney for the City of Anderson addressed the Public Safety Board on Thursday, saying the city had the potential to lose in the wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Ohlheiser in federal court. For that reason, he said city lawyers and city council agreed that he should be reinstated to settle the lawsuit.
Public Safety Board members Bruce Dunham and Bill Watson then voted to reinstate Ohlheiser, saying their job was to do what is best for the city. A third board member was not present.
"I’m just thankful and grateful," said Ohlheiser, who declined to answer questions about the allegations raised by the prosecutor that politics led to his second arrest. He also declined to answer when pressed about his contention that his two arrests did not constitute two separate incidents. Because they both stemmed from the same substance abuse problem, he insisted
they were not part of a pattern but he declined to answer further questions about that notion.
Ohlheiser said he has never been disqualified from handling any OVWI case in his prosecutor’s job.
The City of Anderson issued a written statement shortly after the vote to reinstate the officer:
"The City of Anderson and Mr. Ohlheiser have reached a settlement agreement in the federal lawsuit he filed against the City. As part of that agreement Mr. Ohlheiser will be reinstated to the Anderson police department. His reinstatement will be without any seniority. When Mr. Ohlheiser was previously with APD he played a crucial role in formulating police policies. Furthermore, for the past three years Mr. Ohlheiser has maintained law enforcement powers as he has worked as a deputy prosecutor in Madison County. While there he continued to serve his community."
The Indiana Supreme Court disciplinary panel was notified of Ohlheiser’s original arrest, according to court records, but no disciplinary action was ever taken against his law license. State records currently show he is active and in good standing, without ever having faced a disciplinary proceeding.
The Madison County Prosecutor said Ohlheiser is earning around $62,000 in salary in his present full-time job. The police job will likely start him in the low 40s in salary, Cummings said.
Ohlheiser said he did not know his new assignment when he restarts his police job. The police chief and other department leaders declined to comment, and city lawyers did not respond to requests for information.