Hamilton County Prosecutor D. Lee Buckingham II has no legal obligation to explain why he didn't pursue preliminary drug charges against Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay after a March 16 arrest.
But the prosecutor's silence, coupled with the timing of that charging decision last week, did
little to instill public confidence that Irsay — despite his position and wealth — was treated like anyone else.
Hamilton County Prosecutor Lee Buckingham
Irsay was charged Fridaywith operating a vehicle while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with a controlled substance in his body. Prosecutors allege he had oxycodone, hydrocodone or both in his system when a Carmel police officer pulled him over for driving erratically at 11:40 p.m. March 16.
The prosecutor, however, did not pursue four preliminary charges of possession of a controlled substance that were recommended by police at the time of Irsay's arrest.
Those felony charges — far more serious than the misdemeanor OWI counts — related to Schedule IV prescription drugs that police found in a briefcase and two laundry bags in Irsay's vehicle. Those types of drugs include Xanax, Darvocet, Valium, Ativan and Ambien.Star reporters Tim Evans and Mark Alesia, who did the story, then ask some questions:
• Why did it take more than two months to charge Irsay?
• What happened to the drug charges? Did Irsay have prescriptions for the drugs?
• Did the prosecutor hold off charging Irsay after the team owner helped the city make a bid last week to host the 2018 Super Bowl?
• And why were charges filed in the minutes before the courts closed for the long Memorial Day/Indianapolis 500 weekend?Those are all excellent questions, though the answers to three of the four are obvious. Buckingham held off on charging Irsay because of the pending Super Bowl bid. As far as the timing of the filing of charges, Public Relations 101 is that if you want to kill a big story, release the information late on a Friday afternoon before a long holiday weekend.
The question for which there is not an obvious answer is whether Irsay had prescriptions for all those drugs. But then again, what if he did? That doesn't mean he obtained those prescriptions legally or that others, perhaps prominent Indianapolis-area physicians didn't assist Irsay in getting prescription drugs he should have never received.
Another question I'd like to see asked is what happened to the cash in the vehicle, some $19,000 by news reports. Was Irsay simply given the money back? Anyone else that money would have been subject to civil forfeiture.
While Buckingham is silent as to his decisions with respect to Irsay, former Hamilton County Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp offers a laughable defense:
Sonia Leerkamp, Buckingham's predecessor as Hamilton County prosecutor, said "the public is naturally curious and suspicious that favoritism might be shown" to someone with a high profile and the financial wherewithal of Irsay.
Still, Leerkamp does not think Irsay was treated differently than anyone else would have been under the same circumstances. She said prosecutors must operate under strict ethical rules, which prohibit releasing information that could prejudice a case before it goes to trial.
"I am familiar with the individuals in the position of making those judgments and determinations," Leerkamp said, "and, based upon my knowledge of those individuals and their character, I would never suspect any of them of showing favorable treatment based on (a suspect's) position in the community."Sure, Sonia. After all, who would know better about a prosecutor showing favoritism to the wealthy and politically-connected since that is exactly what you did during your tenure as Hamilton County Prosecutor.
Anyone who might be inclined to believe Leerkamp should talk to defense attorneys who practice in the Hamilton County courts. Defendants without Irsay's wealth and political connections would have been almost immediately charged with multiple felonies and had the cash in the vehicle seized. Then at the end of the process the best deal that would have been offered is to have the client plead to a Class D felony with alternative misdemeanor sentencing. Most certainly the prosecutor's office would never have upfront dropped charges to a misdemeanor.
One would hope the criminal law equally applies to everyone. But in Hamilton County it doesn't apply to Jim Irsay.