PENDLETON — Madison County Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said he would not pursue charges against an Anderson police lieutenant accused of attacking a Greenfield man in downtown Pendleton.
“I made the decision I believe was just and appropriate,” Cummings said Friday. “I will not change my mind and there is no appeal to my decision not to file charges.”
A battery investigation by the Indiana State Police was launched at the request of the Pendleton Police Department after Anderson Police Lt. Steve Denny confronted a man outside The Stable, a bar and restaurant owned by Denny’s wife.
Cummings said he reviewed a video of the incident that shows Denny grabbing Russ Graham of Greenfield around the neck and forcing him to his hands and knees at the side of the street. Three people pulled Denny off Graham after he held Graham down for several seconds.
Attorney Bryan Williams spoke on behalf of Denny, who is a candidate for Pendleton Town Council, regarding the incident. For the most part, Williams and Graham relate similar accounts — with key differences — of what happened on Aug. 31 just after midnight.
Williams said Denny was working at the bar when a man stood behind the bar and Denny told him to “move.”
The two men talked and the other man moved away, Williams said.
Graham, however, said Denny yelled at the other, much younger man and was out of line in his treatment toward the other man and he confronted him about it. Graham said Denny then told him, “I own this place. Get out of my bar.”
Graham said he’d had just one beer that night. He said Denny, however, had been drinking heavily before the two exchanged words.
When Denny told him to leave, Graham said, he got up and walked toward the door with Denny following. At one point, Graham said, he turned around as he was walking toward the door.
“I turned and said something to him. I don’t know, I think I made fun of his shirt,” Graham said. “He was crazy.”
Graham said he “slowly backed out of the bar” as the two continued to argue.
Williams said that is when his client, Denny, should have returned to working behind the bar.
“Steve’s mistake in this entire thing is once the guy was outside, Steve probably should have just stayed inside, but he wanted to make sure the guy was leaving,” the attorney said. “He (Graham) gets out on the sidewalk but is still running his mouth, and he and Steve are arguing back and forth.”
Williams said Graham shouted a threat at Denny, implying he was going to hurt Denny and his wife, and Denny then takes more than a dozen steps over to where Graham is standing to grab him by the throat.
Graham said he did not make any threats to Denny or his wife at any point during the evening. He said he was talking to another man several feet away from the entrance to the bar and did not notice Denny until right before Denny grabbed him.
“I was looking kind of in the direction of the Village Pantry and I don’t know what caught my attention, but I turned around and just as I turned around all I can see is Steve charging at me with his hands out,” Graham said. “I didn’t even have time to react.”
After Denny was pulled off Graham, Williams said, Graham told Denny he was going to call the police and Denny encouraged him to do so. Williams said the Pendleton police arrived and, because Denny is an Anderson police officer and running for Pendleton council, the case was referred to the state police.
Williams said Graham was in the wrong for threatening the couple.
“He could have been charged with intimidation,” Williams said of Graham. “There is also a crime in Indiana called provocation. Steve, at worst, could have been charged with a B misdemeanor battery because there was no injury. The guy did not complain of any injury.”
Graham, however, said he has photos of bruising and said he has experienced neck pain.
He said he requested charges be pressed the night of the incident, but he felt threatened by the Pendleton officer, who told him Denny would press charges if he pursued the issue.
“I felt like he (the Pendleton officer) was taking my story as a joke and, by the way, he is going to press charges, too,” Graham said.
Graham admits to telling state police he was not interested in pursuing charges. But now that he knows Denny is a police officer, he feels Denny should be held accountable for his actions.
Cummings, however, said Graham was in the wrong and was the “provoking party.”
Cummings said a special prosecutor was not requested in this case, given the evidence, and he did not want an officer to be without pay or a job for several months while the case was reviewed because it “puts that officer at a big disadvantage.”
“It just depends on the case, the circumstances and the officers,” Cummings said about the decision of whether to request a special prosecutor.
Williams said Denny notified Anderson Assistant Police Chief Jake Brown about the state police’s investigation immediately following the incident. But Anderson Police Chief Tony Watters said he was not aware of the incident until The Herald Bulletin showed him the video on Sept. 19.
“Regardless of what the Madison County prosecutor pursues or not, there will be an internal investigation of Lt. Denny’s actions that I witnessed on the video,” Watters said.