ANDERSON — An inmate cut off a portion of one of his fingers and mailed it to the newspaper to protest conditions at the Madison County jail.
Michael McCune, 60, severed the tip of his left middle finger and sent it, along with a two-page, hand-written letter, through the U.S. Postal Service to Scott Underwood, editor of The Herald Bulletin.
McCune has since been transferred for security reasons to the state Pendleton Correctional facility. He’s awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge. According to police, he stabbed another man 13 times in the early morning hours of Jan. 12 at a birthday party in Anderson.
The incident isn’t McCune’s first run-in with police. He was convicted in 1985 of stabbing another inmate to death in 1983 at the Indiana Reformatory, now known as the Pendleton Correctional facility. He served 28 years of a 60-year sentence and was released in 2013.
In his recent letter to The Herald Bulletin, McCune writes, “Find enclosed my left middle finger tip that I removed for a reason: to bring to light the oppressive conditions that exist here at the Madison County Jail.”
McCune goes on to allege that staff at the county jail subject offenders to abuse, falsification of conduct records, cold food, sleeping on the floor and violations of due process.
In the second page of the letter, McCune asserts, “I am of sound mind. I removed this finger-tip to bring about changes of the oppressive conditions that exist here ...”
Sheriff Scott Mellinger reported Wednesday that McCune said he cut off the tip of his finger using a razor blade May 21. The letter mailed to The Herald Bulletin was postmarked May 21.
Mellinger said shaving razors are passed out to inmates every two or three days and then collected.
“The inmates take the blades out,” the sheriff said, explaining how McCune might have used one to cut the finger off at the base of the fingernail.
At the time of the incident, McCune was on disciplinary lockdown in a cell by himself for stealing from the medical staff, Mellinger said.
In a telephone call he placed from the jail May 28, McCune talked about cutting his finger off and sending it to the newspaper, according to the sheriff. Jail officials monitor all calls to and from inmates.
“Both him and the person on the other line were very excited and proud of this mutilation,” Jail Commander Tyler Judd said.
Correctional officers check on inmates three times a day, according to Mellinger, who said it’s possible that McCune hid his hand from view until jail staff learned about his May 28 phone call.
The sheriff noted that McCune had been purposely flooding the cell block by clogging a toilet. Staff eventually shut the water to the toilets off to stop the flooding, Mellinger said. He noted that the water was turned on periodically to flush the toilets.
Mellinger said McCune’s self-mutilation had nothing to do with overcrowding.
“He hates being in jail and wanted to be returned to the DOC (Department of Correction),” the sheriff explained. “He has filed a number of grievances that the county is not taking care of his medical needs.”
Mellinger said McCune had surgery on the severed finger Tuesday to remove another portion of the finger because of the threat of infection.
The sheriff’s department receives complaints from inmates daily about meals, medical needs and the behavior of other inmates, the sheriff said.
“We address each complaint,” he said. “If the inmate is not satisfied with the response to the complaint, he can appeal to the jail commander and eventually to me.”
The sheriff said that, during his 30-year career in law enforcement, it’s the first time he’s encountered an incident in which an inmate sent a body part through the mail.
The jail is currently overcrowded because of the coronavirus pandemic, the sheriff noted.
“We’re using four cell blocks to quarantine new people being brought into the jail for two weeks and those inmates that might have been exposed to the virus,” Mellinger said. “That is taking up about 20% of our jail space. The other cell blocks are a little overcrowded, but no one is sleeping on the floors.”
Local defense attorney Bryan Williams said he has received no complaints from any of his clients about conditions at the jail. Anderson attorney Dave Alger, who is representing McCune, did not return calls from The Herald Bulletin seeking interviews with him and McCune.
Mellinger said this week that the sheriff’s department is researching the possibility of charging McCune with sending hazardous material by mail.
McCune was arrested after the alleged stabbing Jan. 12 in the 1900 block of East 49th Street.
According to the probable cause affidavit, McCune was at a birthday party that began at the Blaze Brew Pub, 1920 E. 53rd St. The party group then went to the East 49th Street address.
An argument started between McCune and Lavern Pflugh of Anderson involving women who resided at the house, police said.
After an initial fight was broken up, McCune returned and a second fight started in the front yard, according to the affidavit.
Pflugh was stabbed 13 times, police said, and officers found signs of a struggle in the front yard and blood stains leading into the kitchen of the house.
Pflugh was treated at Ascension St. Vincent Anderson Hospital for stab wounds to the right hand, chest, groin and upper and lower back, police said. Officials would not comment Wednesday on Pflugh’s condition.
Police stopped McCune after the Jan. 12 incident near the intersection of 53rd Street and Scatterfield Road. Officers spotted a knife with dried blood on the serrated blade lying on the front seat of the car, according to the affidavit.
McCune’s 1985 murder conviction was for the stabbing death of Tony M. Pirtle on June 2, 1983.
The men were sitting next to each other in a waiting area at the Indiana Reformatory when McCune stabbed Pirtle with a knife, according to court records. McCune was on crutches and was not handcuffed; Pirtle’s hands were cuffed behind his back, the records said.
A prison employee testified during the trial that the two men appeared to be conversing normally before McCune told Pirtle “never do or say” something again. The employee saw McCune pull Pirtle’s head back and lunge into him with the knife.
At the time, McCune was serving a sentence in the reformatory on a 1980 robbery conviction in Madison County.