INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The last time Grant Mendenhall attended an Indianapolis 500 it was 1986, the year of Danny Sullivan’s “spin-and-win.”
For the first time in more than 30 years, now that he’s back home again in Indiana, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Indiana headquarters is looking forward to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” while also keeping an eye on security for the largest one-day sporting event in the world.
“It's not a bad target. There’s a lot of great targets if you’re trying to look at it through the lens of a terrorist or just a criminal who’s interested in some type of mass casualty attack,” said Mendenhall in his first sit-down television interview since being named Indiana SAC earlier this year. “It's concerning. I mean, it’s the symbolic importance of the Indy 500 and the history. We pay close attention.
“This is one of the things I talk to my folks about all the time, whether it’s a mass casualty shooting or an event with a vehicle, any mass casualty event,” said the FBI boss. “That’s the world we live in now.
“I think everybody should go to the 500 and enjoy it just like I will.”
Mendenhall grew up on a farm in Wayne County, attended Ball State University and left Indiana to become a FBI SWAT sniper, counter terrorism chief and supervisor at the FBI’s Guantanamo Bay site before accepting an assignment to conclude his federal law enforcement career overseeing the Bureau’s Indiana operation.
“The partnerships in the state of Indiana are exceptional,” said Mendenhall. “The bread and butter of the FBI is kind of the long term enterprise theory and investigative approach where we identify a network in an area that’s got a significant violent crime problem or a significant drug problem or where there’s a rash of armed robberies taking place or being committed by a crew.”
Mendenhall said he was struck by the pervasive impact opioids have had across Indiana and the violence association with Indianapolis’ escalating homicide and aggravated assault numbers.
“We’re looking for firearms every day in the cases that we’re working.”
Mendenhall arrived one year after Libby German and Abby Williams were murdered in a wooded area near Delphi, Indiana.
FBI agents and specialists at the Bureau’s Virginia laboratory headquarters have worked side-by-side with Indiana State Troopers and local authorities since the start of the unsolved case.
“A tragedy like that that takes place in really a sort of remote area, those type of cases are a significant challenge for law enforcement at every level,” said Mendenhall. “Our folks all over the country, especially down at Quantico that do the behavioral analysis, crime scene analysis, help us sort through and prioritize leads.”
Mendenhall said the FBI continues to work the case.
“We’re not going anywhere.”
The FBI SAC refused comment on the progress of the Bureau’s civil rights investigation into the fatal IMPD police action shooting of unarmed and fleeing motorist Aaron Bailey in June of 2017.
Last week, the IMPD Civilian Merit Board overruled Chief Bryan Roach and secured the jobs of the two young officers in the case.
With high-tech and international companies such as Cummins, Rolls Royce, Eli Lilly and Roche Diagnostics located in central Indiana, along with Purdue and Indiana Universities, Mendenhall admitted that intellectual property theft, potentially by foreign nationals, is a threat to Hoosier-based businesses and entities.
A battle beyond Mendenhall’s ability to control are the attacks the FBI has suffered at the hands of President Trump and republicans in Congress upset about the probe of alleged Russian influence over and contacts with the White House and the Trump 2016 election campaign.
“There’s roughly 36,000 employees in the FBI. A lot of the conversation that we’ve all heard over the last couple years has been about a very small handful of those 36,000 employees,” said Mendenhall. “What I’ve seen over the last 90 days is people in the state of Indiana, I think, aren’t as concerned about what’s happening in back in DC as I thought they might be which I think is a good news story.
“We’re focused on the mission. The FBI is an organization of exceptionally talented and driven people who are here for the right reasons which is to protect the American people and doing that through abiding by the Constitution and protecting the tenants of the Constitution of the United States.”