SOUTHPORT, Ind. – Tom Vaughn is the police chief of Southport.
He is also the lead name defendant in a federal lawsuit filed against the city, the police department and another police officer by a member of the city council who may or may not be the president as of Tuesday night.
Monday night, two hours after Council President Shara Hostetler appeared on CBS4 detailing her lawsuit against the chief over a police raid at her home that she claims cost her an election victory two years ago, Vaughn took the floor at a council meeting and proposed a no confidence vote against Hostetler after complaining about her lawsuit and perceived lack of support for the police department.
“I find that it’s kind of hard to stomach the kinds of things that were written today,” said Vaughn during a council meeting attended by several uniformed Southport police officers, “so what I would like to do is ask the council to have a vote of no confidence for Shara Hostetler.”
Vaughn said that while he could not comment on pending litigation, “I find it highly a little odd for a couple reasons. One, we just lost an officer two months ago and the city’s still trying to heal from that so to bring this up now since it was 2015 I think is ridiculous. We need time to get everybody here to heal.”
Hostetler countered that her lawsuit was filed months before the on-duty death of Lt. Aaron Allan this summer and that she wholeheartedly supports the men and women of the Southport Police Department despite her lawsuit claiming a faulty search of her home violated her 4th and 14th Amendment rights.
“This is a council meeting. This isn’t PR time to benefit off of whatever happened last month,” said Hostetler, referring to Allan’s killing. “Lawsuit or no lawsuit, when somebody’s rights are violated it’s a serious issue. I would stand up for any one of you in this room that lives here that had this also happen to them.”
As Hostetler struggled to be heard over the catcalls and boos of the audience, she pointed to another defendant in her lawsuit, Detective Jason Swanson, who led the investigation at her house in early 2015 and was seated next to the chief Monday night with a video camera trained on the council table.
“What they want is to make lies and this officer right here is the one who told me lies.”
In the lawsuit, Hostetler claimed investigators threatened to “remove her children from her custody” unless she told them the gun found in her home belonged to her son’s father, Marc Hostetler, who was under investigation for impersonation of a police officer.
“They didn’t have what they needed to have,” Hostetler told the council meeting. “They had what is called a good faith hearing and the judge in the case said specifically that they were negligent and incompetent or both and that there was no good faith. That’s unheard of.”
The criminal case against Marc Hostetler was dropped.
Shara Hostetler was never charged and her gun was returned.
After the Vaughn-proposed No Confidence vote passed by a 3-2 margin, the council debated whether Hostetler should be stripped of her title as president.
“At this time I’d like to make a motion for removal from office of the president of city council,” Councilman Jim Cooney is heard on an audio tape of the meeting provided by Hostetler.
“You can’t do that,” Hostetler said.
“I just did it,” said Cooney.
The motion passed by a 3-2 margin, though Hostetler told CBS4 that the council violated its own ordinance, state statute and rules of governance.
“They either have to give me prior notice and then there’s something called an investigation committee, it would have to go through a Roberts Rules trial,” she said. “In some cases and it would have to be a two-thirds vote. You just can’t spring it on somebody out of the blue because you’re upset that they went on the media and told the truth because I have a First Amendment right.
“They already violated several of my rights. The rights to illegal search and seizure of my property, my property, the right to bear arms, the right to free speech. What else are they gonna take from me next?
“They had an entire police department in a room booing me. Their whole approach was to either try to break me down, embarrass me, harass me about the details of the lawsuit, film me during this trial because I feel like they wanted to play judge in this scenario.”
Hostetler’s lawsuit claims Vaughn sought to sabotage her 2015 campaign for Southport Clerk-Treasurer by timing the raid two weeks before the election which she lost by 34 votes.
The lawsuit alleges Vaughn’s wife was the Deputy Clerk under the incumbent Clerk-Treasurer who Hostetler was seeking to unseat and the dismissed investigation that led to the raid was politically motivated.
Vaughn is currently running for the Republican nomination in next year’s Marion County Sheriff’s race and utilized his campaign website email, TomVaughnForSheriff.com, to respond to Hostetler’s lawsuit.
“I cannot comment on certain specifics regarding the ongoing litigation,” Vaughn wrote. “I look forward to having this frivolous lawsuit dismissed.
“My oath is to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”
Hostetler said the only attempt to dismiss her lawsuit that she is aware of is Vaughn’s effort to be removed as a defendant.
“This pretty much put himself right back in the middle of this and he did it to himself,” she said.
Vaughn also took the opportunity to defend himself against allegations by unnamed critics that he has engaged in nepotism after hiring his son Kyle as Southport’s only other paid police officer, taking the position left vacant by the death of Lt. Allan.
“When we decided we were going to hire a fulltime police officer I stepped away from it because my son was in that process. What we did was the mayor, a city council member, a board member and two police supervisors sat in on those interviews,” Vaughn told the council and the audience. “What they did was they hired the next person on the list which is Kyle Vaughn. When you talk about nepotism you have to look at the whole code and not just the portion you want to pick out of it. I am not an elected official. I am not the direct supervisor. In the police structure we have commanders, we have assistant chiefs, majors, and all that kind of stuff.”
On his sheriff’s campaign website, Vaughn promises, “We will end the practice of ‘pay to play,’ departmental nepotism and favoritism.”
Hostetler said she was unaware that Kyle Vaughn would become the department’s second paid officer until the chief’s announcement at the meeting.
The first term council member said that she would consult with legal counsel to determine if a brief should be filed with the U.S. District Court alleging harassment and intimidation of a plaintiff by a defendant for Vaughn’s motion to have the council cast a no confidence vote against her.
“I’m not easily intimidated. Now I did feel harassed and uncomfortable in the scenario and I don’t feel like I deserved that,” Hostetler said the day after she may or may not have been removed as Southport City Council president. “I have to do the right thing and if good men do nothing, people like that win, and I’m not willing to let that happen to me, my family or the citizens that I represent.”
Hostetler’s attorney, Jeff McQuary, told CBS4, “These are tactics one expects in a banana republic, not an American city.
“Surrounding her with police officers at an otherwise peaceful event is a classic intimidation tactic. This is what voter intimidation lawsuits are made of. There is no legitimate purpose to have Officer Swanson point a camera directly at her during the meeting other than to intimidate her.
“Thomas Vaughn's action at the City Council meeting last night are the best possible proof that the criminal investigation of Marc Hostetler was never about Marc's guilt or innocence but was actually motivated by Vaughn's desire to embarrass Shara Hostetler and deprive her of a political office.”