Jury Finds Alva Sibbitt Guilty On Four Counts

by Staff on October 3, 2012

in Local

Dr. Alva L. Sibbitt, Jr.

Former Paoli school superintendent Dr. Alva Sibbitt, Jr., was found guilty by a Crawford County jury Tuesday evening.

The jury convicted Sibbitt of two felonies, intimidation and resisting law enforcement, and two misdemeanors, resisting law enforcement and criminal recklessness.

A directed verdict was earlier granted by Crawford Circuit Court Judge Lopp, finding Sibbitt innocent of a misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.

A sentencing hearing is set for 1 p.m. on October 29 in Crawford Circuit Court. Sibbitt faces a maximum of eight years imprisonment on the four charges, although his actual sentence will almost certainly be much less.

After the verdict was announced, Kelly Minton, Orange County Prosecutor, requested that Sibbitt’s bond be revoked. Judge Lopp, however, denied that request.

Had the prosecution’s request been granted, Sibbitt would have been incarcerated until sentencing.

Career at Paoli Schools

After attending Paoli schools himself, Sibbitt served as superintendent of the school system for over 36 years. John Lantis, former Mitchell superintendent, was retiring at the end of 2010 and the Mitchell school board had been seeking his replacement.

In early November 2010, it was announced that Sibbitt had signed a three and a half year contract to serve as superintendent at Mitchell beginning January 1, 2011.

He never officially served in that capacity, however.

“I will have your job! I will have your ass!”

At 3:38 p.m. on December 9, 2010, Indiana State Police Trooper Robert Lambert witnessed a Chrysler Town and Country van turn from Elm Street onto West Water Street in Paoli. Trooper Lambert noticed that the man driving the vehicle was not wearing his seat belt, in violation of Indiana law.

Lambert began pursuing the vehicle and initiated a traffic stop by activating his lights but the driver did not immediately stop. Instead, the vehicle continued traveling east on Water Street, disregarding stop signs at Josephine and Water Streets and Southwest Third and Water Streets along the way.

Eventually, the driver pulled over in the parking lot of the Orange County Community Foundation office at East Water Street and Highway 37.

Lambert approached the van, which was owned by the school corporation, and spoke with the driver, Alva L. Sibbitt, Jr. The officer discovered that Sibbitt did not have a driver’s license or current proof of insurance in his possession.

In addition, Lambert suspected that Sibbitt might be under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

“I noticed that he did have a large cup in his center console … his driving behavior … the stutter of his speech. That didn’t strike me as normal … At one point he was verbally abusive to me … I thought something wasn’t right.”

Lambert retrieved a portable breath test unit from his police cruiser and asked Sibbitt to submit to the test. Sibbitt, who was angry, refused.

“Sibbitt then yelled at me saying ‘you don’t know who I am. I will have your job! I will have your ass!'”

Lambert said that as he was returning to his vehicle he turned back to look toward Sibbitt. Sibbitt put the vehicle into reverse, backed up, and struck the police car, causing it to shake.

“Sibbitt knowingly and intentionally drove his silver 2007 Chrysler Town and Country into my 2008 Ford Crown Victoria while attempting to flee police detention.” — ISP Trooper Robert Lambert

Lambert immediately ran up to driver’s side door of the vehicle and removed Sibbitt from the vehicle. He informed Sibbitt that he was under arrest and attempted to handcuff him.

“When I grabbed Sibbitt’s arms he stiffened his arms in such a manner as not to allow me to handcuff him. Sibbitt’s movement was not one of being scared; it was a movement/tightness with strength behind it in order to prevent me from handcuffing him. Sibbitt would not turn around either.”

Despite Sibbitt’s actions to resist arrest, Lambert managed to pull him back to his police cruiser and placed him over the hood in order to gain control of him. Sibbitt continued to resist being handcuffed and only began to comply after Lambert threatened to release Diesel, an Indiana State Police K-9 officer. Sibbitt was handcuffed and seat belted into the front seat of Lambert’s police cruiser.

During the incident, other police officers arrived at the scene to assist Lambert. The school-owned vehicle was released to Paoli High School Principal Casey Brewster, who had also arrived.

Sibbitt was arrested at 3:51 p.m. and transported to the Orange County Jail. While there, he reportedly apologized to Lambert and asked him not to file any felony charges against him because he did not want to lose his job.

Sibbitt posted a $2,005 bond and left the jail at 8:41 p.m.

End of term at Paoli

Four days later, on Monday, December 13, Sibbitt made a request to the Paoli School Board that he be permitted to use accrued vacation time through December 31, the date of his scheduled departure.

The school board voted 7-0 to approve Sibbitt’s request. His tenure at Paoli schools was effectively over and he was set to begin his duties as superintendent at Mitchell on January 1.

Mitchell places Sibbitt on paid leave

On December 28, 2010, just a few days before Sibbitt was set to begin his duties as superintendent, the Mitchell school board heard separate motions related to Sibbitt’s contract.

One motion passed instructed the attorneys for the school board and staff “to prepare and take all steps necessary to establish a day for this board to consider the cancellation of the contract of Alva Sibbitt.”

Another motion was made to place Sibbitt on paid leave, pending the “determination by the board on his contract.”

A third motion was made to appoint Dr. Steve Phillips, the high school principal, as the acting superintendent effective January 1.

Each of the three motions was passed unanimously — without any discussion — by the five Mitchell school board members.

“We applaud you and it’s a good decision. That’s why we’re all here.” — Twila Pugh, parent of a Mitchell student, to the school board.

During the school board session, Sibbitt sat in the front row along with attorneys J.C. Tucker and Scott Callahan.

“This rush to judgment is unfortunate,” Tucker stated after the meeting.

Mitchell school board slow to act

The Mitchell school board took its time making any decisions regarding their investigation into Sibbitt’s actions. As we wrote in a March 15, 2011, article, Sibbitt — who remained on paid leave — had “earned an estimated $22,000 … for doing absolutely nothing“.

Two weeks later, on March 29, 2011, a public hearing — requested by Sibbitt — was held to discuss whether to cancel Sibbitt’s contract with the Mitchell Community Schools.

During the meeting, the school board heard testimony from more than 30 “witnesses” over a 10-hour period. The overwhelming majority of these “witnesses”, however, were not present at the scene of the crime.

That meeting, however, adjourned with any decision being made.

Sibbitt remained on paid leave, drawing a salary of $105,000, plus benefits.

School board cancels Sibbitt’s contract

Finally, on April 11, 2011, the Mitchell school board voted to cancel Sibbitt’s contract “effective immediately”.

In a document dated that day, the school board noted 22 “findings of fact” and several “conclusions of law”.

“Based on the foregoing findings of fact and conclusions of law the contract employing Dr. Alva L. Sibbitt, Jr. as superintendent and as a teacher in Mitchell Schools is cancelled effective immediately.”

By this time, it is estimated that Sibbitt had received nearly $30,000 in salary (excluding benefits) while on paid leave.

Sibbitt files civil suit against school board

In late May 2011, Sibbitt filed a civil lawsuit against the school board, claiming a breach of contract.

Sibbitt sought “damages in an amount to be determined at trial, plus court costs, attorney’s fees and all other proper relief,” according to the suit.

On August 31, 2011, Special Judge Marc R. Kellams, who had been brought in from Monroe County, granted a motion to dismiss.

According to Judge Kellams, Sibbitt did not “dispute that the board president initiated the procurement of Mr. Wallman’s [an attorney hired by the school board] services, or that the majority of the board approved such procurement. His contention is only that the meetings during which Mr. Wallman were retained were not ‘open meetings’ and that the votes came ‘without public discussion’.”

“… such requirements are not present in either the general procurement statute or the more specific statute related to approval of contracts by the board. The plaintiff seeks to hold the board to a standard other than what is required by the law. For these reasons, the court finds that the board was entitled to procure services in a manner it deemed appropriate, and that it did so when retaining Mr. Wallman’s legal services.” — Judge Marc R. Kellams

Sibbitt hired at Cannelton schools

On November 22, 2011, school board members at Cannelton schools in southern Indiana removed Marion “Al” Chapman, superintendent, from his duties by the school board after it was alleged that he failed to pay vendors, misapplied proceeds, and got the school district behind more than $500,000 in state and local taxes, which resulted in penalties, interest, and and attorney fees.

Chapman was formally terminated from his position on December 22, 2011.

An audit released by the State Board of Accounts in August 2012 declared that Chapman owed $615,586.55 to the school district and the state. Shortly afterwards, the state attorney general’s office filed a suit against Chapman.

In the meantime, Dan Freed, Cannelton high school’s guidance counselor and former Orleans principal, was selected to take over duties as the principal at Cannelton’s high school.

The school board members then selected Sibbitt to work with the school as the interim superintendent through June 2012, leaving many parents questioning why.

“Get rid of him right now, before he starts.” — Paul Little, parent.

“I’m not impressed. I don’t think he should be superintendent.” — Chad Vogt, parent.

According to a December 26, 2011, article in the Times-Mail, Sibbitt stated that “he works from home”. In another article, dated December 31, 2011, and entitled “The week in quotes”, Sibbitt was quoted as saying, “I signed a contract wth them about two months ago, but I have not had the opportunity to do any work.”

Note: Contrary to Sibbitt’s claim, this writer personally witnessed and spoke with Sibbitt in the offices at Cannelton High School on several occasions in late 2011.

Under the terms of a contract in effect from July 1, 2012 through June 2015, Sibbitt later became the non-interim superintendent at Cannelton schools.

After the release of the audit, Sibbitt stated that he had a three-year plan to increase revenue, decrease expenditures, and get the school corporation out of their financial debacle.

“I’ve taken this as a personal challenge and, I have to be honest, it’s the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life to save the Cannelton City Schools. And it takes someone who is an expert in school finance to do that, which happens to be my area of expertise.” — Sibbitt

The legal system moves slowly

With a very few exceptions, the case against Sibbitt progressed slowly from his arrest in December 2010 until September 2012.

Various motions, mostly continuances, were filed with the courts, including a motion for a change of venue. J.C. Tucker and Scott Callahan, attorneys for Sibbitt, requested the change of venue citing pre-trial publicity that the case received.

Orange County Judge Michael Cloud agreed and granted the motion, transferring the case to Crawford County.

The trial commences

Early last week, a jury of four women and two men were selected to hear the case against Sibbitt, which was set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Crawford County Circuit Court.

On Wednesday, September 26, the trial began with Indiana State Police Trooper Robert Lambert, the arresting officer in the case, being called as the first witness for the prosecution. He was the only witness to testify that day.

On Thursday, the second day of the trial, Trooper Lambert returned to the stand. ISP Sergeant Greg Ashby, Lambert’s superior, ISP Trooper Shane Staggs, and Paoli Police Department Officer Scott Dillman also testified as witnesses for the prosecution.

Two witnesses were called to testify by the defense. Teresa Houston testified that she drove past the scene and witnessed a man “laying on a car”. She also stated that, “An officer was taking his feet and kicking his legs apart.”

Defense attorney Scott Callahan asked former Paoli High School principal James Babcock about Sibbitt’s stuttering. ISP Trooper Lambert had referenced Sibbitt’s stutter in his original case report.

“He would get to talking and he would stammer some. I’ve heard it over and over again.” — Babcock

Over the course of the remainder of the trial, Sibbitt’s wife, Judy Sibbitt, testified for the defense. Several school employees testified as well, in what seemed like an attempt to draw attention to Sibbitt’s reputation at the school, his character, and the fact that he had been at work all day, while drawing attention away from Sibbitt’s alleged actions during the traffic stop — which are, obviously, the most important details.

Many of the defense witnesses were asked about Sibbitt’s “stutter” as well as his habit of drinking large quantities of Diet Coke.

Defense requests a directed verdict

After the State of Indiana has rested its case, defense attorney Scott Callahan requested a directed verdict on all of the five counts Sibbitt was charged with. He argued that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence for a guilty verdict and asked the court to find his client not guilty on all counts.

Callahan stated that the prosecuting attorney had failed to prove that Sibbitt was leaving the scene. Testimony during the defense portion of the trial attempted to persuade the court that Sibbitt “accidentally” ran into the police cruiser when he was backing up.

Prosecutor Kelly Minton, however, reminded the judge that Sibbitt himself had testified that he was attempting to drive to the jail. “He was leaving the scene,” she said.

In addition, Minton played parts of an audio recording that captured significant portions of the conversation regarding the arrest. In the recording, Sibbitt himself was heard talking about his intentions of leaving the scene and going to the Orange County Jail.

Judge Lopp agreed with Callahan that the prosecution failed to provide enough evidence with regard to the amount of damage to the vehicle. On that basis, she issued a directed verdict on the criminal mischief charge, the fifth count against Sibbitt.

The other four counts, however, would be left for the jury to decide.

The case goes to the jury

In closing statements, Callahan referenced Trooper Lambert removing Sibbitt from the vehicle after the van Sibbitt was driving struck the Trooper’s police cruiser.

“Lambert went up to him and jerked him out of the car. That was excessive force. That was unnecessary force.” — Callahan

Callahan also tried to misdirect the jury’s attention, mentioning several “mistakes” and “exaggerations” that he said Lambert made.

Callahan finished his closing arguments, stating that Sibbitt simply “made a bad decision” and “is not a criminal”.

“Let’s face it. He made a bad decision. That’s not a crime. Al Sibbitt is not a criminal. He has never been arrested in his life. Do not brand him as a criminal.” — Callahan

Speaking after Callahan, Orange County Prosecutor Kelly Minton, told the jury that a defense of “the cops are liars” is not a good one.

“He wants you to focus on the police actions, but not on the defendant’s actions … That’s what they would have you believe, that this was all part of a conspiracy to ruin Dr. Sibbitt’s reputation … The defendant is responsible for his actions.” — Prosecutor Kelly Minton

Tthe case was turned over to the jury about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to decide the four remaining charges.

Guilty on four counts

Shortly after 7 p.m., the jury consisting of four women and two men returned verdicts of guilty on the four remaining counts, two felonies and two misdemeanors.

The jury found Sibbitt guilty of intimidation and resisting law enforcement (felonies) as well as resisting law enforcement and criminal recklessness (misdemeanors).

Sibbitt, who reportedly plans to appeal the verdicts, faces up to a maximum of eight years imprisonment at his sentencing, scheduled at 1 p.m. on October 29 in Crawford Circuit Court.

An attorney that we contacted, however, believes that Sibbitt will not be sentenced to any time in jail.

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