Father of DUI crash victim offended by Tippecanoe Co. Sheriff’s award to inmate

Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard is facing heat over his decision to name the jail lobby after a current inmate with seven convictions for drunken driving. (Provided Photo/WLFI)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) — Tippecanoe County Sheriff Barry Richard’s decision to name the jail lobby after an inmate has struck a nerve with one West Lafayette man.

In his rear-view mirror, Dan Towery will never forget the image of his daughter killed by a drunken driver who had several previous DUI and OWI convictions.

“Would have been his fifth if he would have survived,” said Towery.

Tippecanoe County jail inmate Jay Shaw has seven drunken driving convictions. He’s never hurt anyone but in his most recent arrest, Shaw blew .313 behind the wheel.

“I mean, it wasn’t he had one drink too many,” said Towery. “He was totally wasted and then drove with no license.”

When Dan Towery saw Shaw’s plaque hanging in the lobby of the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Office awarding him for his maintenance work at the jail, he was offended.

“I have to say, it’s wrong,” said Towery.

But that’s not how Sheriff Richard views it. He says it’s a way to break the cycle.

“It’s going to build his self-esteem, his self-worth,” Richard explained. “Being able [for him] to think, you know, I accomplished this and I really did something good for my community I live in.”

Inmate Shaw said, “I’m here to be punished and I get a chance to give back … for what I’ve done wrong.”

Towery says recognizing Shaw for his work is one thing, but honoring the criminal with a plaque is disrespectful to the community. He said especially to deputies at the sheriff’s office, who risk their lives to arrest people like Shaw.

“That’s the type of thing that needs to be recognized in that lobby,” Towery said. “The officers that are doing a good job.”

Former Sheriff Smokey Anderson couldn’t agree more.

“I think we are sending the wrong message to lots of people, certainly to our employees,” Anderson said.

He said the fact Sheriff Richard testified on behalf of Shaw during his sentencing last week was entirely inappropriate.

“To go into court and actually testifying, basically against a prosecution, it’s just not the sheriff’s responsibility,” said Anderson. “And it’s very sad in my opinion.”

But Richard said, “I went to his sentencing hearing to get him additional help with his substance abuse, and the counseling, and … being able to be placed some place where they can get to the root of the problem.”

Towery added, “The court cannot order treatment. The person has to want to change.”

That was the deputy prosecutor’s argument when he challenged the sheriff by saying Shaw had been through two decades of court ordered treatment without success.

“It’s so sad that after his first or second offense there wasn’t an intervention that would have helped him turn his life around in a way where he would have put this hard work in another place,” said Vicky Jones, Lafayette Resource Academy teacher.

However, Jones applauds the sheriff for encouraging Shaw in his time of need.

“Jay is probably the epitome of a very good man who has made some very poor choices,” she said.

Jones feels trustees like Jay should be recognized, and Sheriff Richard agrees that’s why he’s been throwing Trustee Appreciation Days where he uses commissary funds to throw a luncheon for those inmates.

“We get something that’s not usually here, like good hot dogs,” Shaw said. “Let’s see, what was the last one? Oh, we had pizza!”

Shaw isn’t the first trustee Sheriff Richard has taken special interest in. Earlier this year he tried hiring a trustee as a maintenance man, shortly after he was released from jail.

“We strongly advised him not to hire him,” County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said.

County commissioners even pointed out the candidate’s felony disqualified him, since he didn’t have a driver’s license. But Sheriff Richard got around that by changing the job description.

“That was in the process of being done when we understand the gentleman was rearrested and so it ended the subject,” said Murtaugh.

Towery is sure the sheriff’s heart is in the right place – taking personal interest in certain inmates.

“I don’t want to throw him under the bus for what he’s trying to do,” he said.

But Towery said let the professionals handle rehabilitation because voters gave Richard a different role.

“He needs to stick to law enforcement,” he said.

Shaw’s $100 plaque in the lobby was paid for out of the Sheriff’s Commissary funds.

After being sentenced to nine years for his latest convictions, Shaw is no longer allowed by law to work in the lobby recently named after him.