A Carroll County jury late Tuesday found two local police officers not guilty in connection with charges stemming from the removal of a mentally ill man from jail last year and his banishment to Florida.
Carrollton Police Chief Mike Willhoite and Officer Ron Dickow were indicted in August on felony charges of complicity to commit kidnapping and custodial interference, as well as official misconduct, a misdemeanor. After deliberating for only about an hour, the jury acquitted the two officers on all charges.
Willhoite’s and Dickow’s roles in Adam Horine’s removal from jail, and his alleged police-sponsored trip to Florida, were the focus of an investigation last May by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. (Read “Police in Kentucky Town Ship Mentally Ill Man to Florida, Defying Judge’s Order“)
Willhoite and Dickow still face contempt of court charges for allegedly violating District Judge Elizabeth Chandler’s order that Horine be taken to Eastern State Hospital in Lexington for psychiatric care.
Despite that order, Dickow — allegedly acting at Willhoite’s direction — took Horine out of jail in the middle of the night, drove him to Louisville and put him on a bus bound for Florida.
If found guilty of contempt, Willhoite and Dickow could be sentenced to 179 days in jail. The two officers also have been sued by Horine in connection with his banishment to Florida.
Neither Willhoite nor Dickow could be reached for comment Wednesday. Rob Riley, Dickow’s attorney, told WDRB-TV following the verdict that the jury “saw through” the prosecution’s case.
“They saw that it was a mistake. They saw that it wasn’t some big giant conspiracy,” Riley told WDRB.
Willhoite’s attorney, Greg McDowell, refused to discuss the jury verdict with KyCIR.
The state attorney general’s office, which prosecuted the case, issued this statement late Tuesday to KyCIR:
“A decision was reached today by a 12-person jury in the trial of the Carrollton police chief and a fellow city officer. The mission of our office is not to ‘win,’ but to seek justice. We respect the verdict issued by the jury and appreciate their service.”
Both officers testified in their own defense and admitted their roles in sending Horine out of the state. But they said that doing so was the result of a misunderstanding, not willful misconduct, according to WDRB.
Dickow said he was simply following Willhoite’s orders, and Riley told the jury that Dickow “made a mistake but he didn’t commit a crime,” the station reported.
McDowell told jurors there was no proof that Willhoite was aware that Chandler had not approved sending Horine to Florida and had instead ordered that he be taken to Eastern State Hospital, according to WDRB.
Willhoite’s attorney also said his client should not be convicted for making a mistake. “A mistake is not intentional,” McDowell said. “A mistake is a mistake.”
Prosecutor Shawna Kincer of the attorney general’s office told jurors that the officers’ actions were intentional, and added: “Ignorance is not a defense to the law. This was more than a mistake. It was intentional.”
Willhoite and Dickow were ordered not to perform law-enforcement functions or be involved with police-related paperwork until their charges were resolved. It could not immediately be determined Wednesday whether they are now free to return to work.
Records and jail surveillance video show that Dickow had removed Horine, a troubled 31-year-old mentally and physically ill man, from the Carroll County Detention Center last April.
The previous day, Judge Chandler had ordered police to immediately transfer Horine to Eastern State Hospital in Lexington for psychiatric evaluation and treatment. Horine, who had been jailed on two misdemeanor charges, acknowledged to Chandler that he had mental problems.
Dickow instead drove him to Louisville, gave him about $18 and put him on a bus for a 900-mile, one-way trip to Florida, KyCIR found.
Though illegal in Kentucky since 1965, the age-old practice of banishment still occurs today, though just how frequently is anyone’s guess. KyCIR has since exposed two other such cases.
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at email@example.com or (502) 814.6533.
This story was reported by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.