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Taxpayers on the hook after DNR officer's false statements got a woman arrested

The Indiana Supreme Court chamber. The five justice's names are each on a plaque in front of their seats at a long desk.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled that a Department of Natural Resources officer made false statements — but did not knowingly lie — that led to a woman being arrested. As a result, the state must pay the damages and costs the woman won in a federal lawsuit.

Taxpayers are on the hook for damages and legal bills after a woman was arrested because of false statements made by an Indiana Department of Natural Resources officer.

That’s what the state Supreme Court decided in a recent ruling.

Kailee Leonard accidentally hit and killed the dog of DNR officer Scott Johnson in front of his home. She left the scene and returned shortly after to tell Johnson what had happened.

Months later, Johnson told a local prosecutor she hadn’t returned until the next day. That led to Leonard being charged with leaving the scene of an accident. Those charges were eventually dropped. She then sued Johnson in federal civil court.

READ MORE: DNR officer wants state to foot the bill after he lied and got a woman falsely charged

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Leonard won that case, with Johnson ordered to pay more than $60,000 in damages and costs. Indiana law allows state employees to pass on those costs to the government — if the employee’s actions were “noncriminal.”

The state Supreme Court said they were. It said there’s no evidence to show that Johnson “knowingly lied,” which would be the criminal act. And the court ruling means that the state is now responsible for paying Leonard and her attorney what they’re owed.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.