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Gary police chief faces civil rights charges

/ Source: The Associated Press

The police chief in the violence-plagued city of Gary assaulted two people he suspected of burglarizing his home and had them and two others wrongfully locked up for three days, prosecutors said Thursday.

Police Chief Thomas Houston and two top aides surrendered to U.S. marshals on Thursday and were released on $20,000 bond each, one day after they were indicted on federal civil rights charges.

Houston faces six counts of depriving the civil rights of another, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said in statement. If convicted, he faces up to 24 years in prison.

Among other things, Houston was accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the stomach and punching another suspect, a woman, also in the stomach.

Houston appeared in court without an attorney and left without answering questions.

Deputy Chief Thomas Branson was charged with civil rights violations and lying to federal agents, while Sgt. Thomas Decanter faces one civil rights count. Attorneys for Branson and Decanter denied wrongdoing.

Ransacked house, missing gun
Houston returned from a funeral June 1 and found his house had been ransacked and a gun was missing, the indictment said. It said he and Branson went to a home that same day and that Houston assaulted two of the suspects and had all four arrested and detained without probable cause.

Branson and Decanter are accused of striking a third suspect in the arm with a piece of wood.

Branson's attorney, former Mayor Scott King, said the indictments stemmed from "a subjective, one-sided investigation."

"If we make an analogy, it's the bottom of the first inning and the home team did not have a pitcher up," he told reporters outside the courthouse.

Decanter's attorney, Thomas Vanes, said his client had passed a polygraph test.

"Tom didn't abuse anybody — no one, no how. It will go to trial. He's not pleading guilty to anything," Vanes said.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Cherry set March 14 arraignments for the three.

‘No blemishes at all’
Gary Mayor Rudy Clay had appointed Houston as chief the northern Indiana city last May. He said Thursday that the indictment was a surprise, as Houston had been with the department for 42 years with "no blemishes at all."

"What we're talking about here is probably three of the best police officers anywhere in the country," Clay said.

The indictment did not give the alleged victims' names or a possible motive for the defendants' actions. None of the four suspects was charged in connection with the break-in, authorities said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Jodi Bobb declined to give further detail.

Houston had said when he was appointed police chief that he would shake up the 256-officer force. But the city suffered its largest increase in homicides in nearly a decade, with 71 occurring in the city of nearly 100,000 people during 2007.