BEDFORD – Former Bedford Police Department Captian Morgan Lee was sentenced today in Lawrence County Superior Court I after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor charges of official misconduct and battery.
A charge of strangulation was dropped in a negotiated plea deal.
Lee was sentenced to 365 days in jail. He was given credit for one day served and 363 days were suspended. He will serve one year on supervised probation and serve 50 hours of community service.
According to an Indiana State Police report, 45-year-old Lee turned himself in at the Lawrence County Jail at 6:40 p.m. Friday, March 4, 2022, posted bond, and was released from jail.
According to a probable cause affidavit, ISP Detective Sgt. Brock Werne began an investigation into Officer Lee’s behavior on August 2, 2021, after a citizen accused Lee of battery.
A male filed a complaint saying on January 8, 2021, Lee had thrown him to the ground and choked him. The male stated Officer Lee “pushed himself up off the ground with my throat between his hand and the floor.” The male said he suffered contusions. The incident was captured on video.
The incident began after Bedford Police Department received a 911 call on January 8, 2021, at approximately 12:08 a.m. reporting a domestic dispute at 510 H St., in Bedford.
Captain Morgan Lee, Sgt. Chase Hamilton and Officer Clay Blackburn responded to the incident. The call sheet showed officers left the residence at 1:04 a.m. and advised dispatch that the domestic was verbal and the female left with her mother. The man involved was not arrested.
Officer Lee was informed of the investigation and was asked to speak to the ISP detective. Lee said he would contact his attorney. Lee gave the investigator a statement on August 9, 2021.
On August 4, 2021, the investigator was contacted by the victim’s attorney Timothy Sledd saying the incident was captured on security footage outside of the victim’s home.
The video showed the victim wrapping his bleeding finger with paper towels. Officer Lee walks into the victim’s residence and stands to the right side of the kitchen countertop. Dialogue between Officer Lee and the victim is audible in the video. Lee then lunges toward the victim. At the same time, Officer Lee extends his hands forward and places them on the victim’s chest. Lee pushes the male victim backward and towards the refrigerator. The victim can be heard saying “What are you going to do beat me in my own expletive house?” Officer Lee then pushes the male victim down to the kitchen floor. While on the floor with Lee on top of him, the male victim’s hands are visible out to his side. The male is heard saying “Choke me out as long as you expletive want expletive.” Lee then gets up off of the male.
The ISP investigator then met with BPD Chief Terry Moore who provided the investigator with additional information including Lee’s body camera videos and interviews with officers involved in the incident.
The investigator reviewed those statements and camera footage.
The first body camera video showed the incident between Lee and the victim in the kitchen of the residence. There is a dialogue between Lee and the victim. Lee asks for the male’s identification. The male handed Officer Lee the identification. Lee checks with dispatch and determines that the male is not wanted for any crimes. Lee then repeatedly asks if the male wants an ambulance for his finger. The victim repeatedly says no. Lee tells the male to quit raising his voice. The male asks what Lee is going to do about it. Lee states “You’re going to end up on the wrong side of this.” The male asks Lee how. Lee again asks if the male wants an ambulance. The male responds “No. I expletive said I don’t want an ambulance.” The male then turns and talks to the other officer present. Lee then yells “Hey shut the expletive up.” The male responds “expletive you expletive.” Officer Lee then lunges toward the male and can be seen pushing him. The video then ends abruptly.
The next body camera video briefly shows a scuffle. The victim’s voice can be heard saying “Choke me out as long as you expletive want expletive.”
The next body camera footage shows Lee outside talking with the male’s girlfriend. Lee tells her that the male was mad and kept raising his voice and spits on Lee.
On August 9, 2021, the investigator met with Morgan Lee at the ISP Jasper Post. Lee’s attorney Ed Merchant was also present.
Lee told the investigator that he responded to a call regarding a domestic situation between a male and his girlfriend. The male had cut his finger and Lee was concerned that the male needed medical attention. He went inside the home to check on the male. Based on his observations and experience he believed the male was intoxicated, however, he did not administer a portable breath test. They exchanged some words, Lee then approached the male in a way that was going to tell him he needed to show some respect. Lee stated he was spat on by the male. Lee then made physical contact with the male tripping and taking him to the ground so that Lee was not spat on again. Lee then laid on top of the male for a few seconds until the male calmed down. Lee denied choking or punching the man. Lee was asked if the male purposely spat on him and Lee stated it was on purpose.
Lee was then asked why they did not arrest the male. Lee stated that when the girlfriend was leaving with her mother the threat was removed.
The investigator asked why the male was not arrested for battery on a police officer. Lee explained that he would have had to sit at the hospital due to the male’s need for medical treatment for his finger and state of intoxication. Lee believed that was not the best course of action, that he had been spit on before and not taken someone to jail, that they were already in a tense situation, and that trying to put the male in cuffs would have been a fight. Lee stated that not arresting the male was cutting everyone a break.
Lee was asked about Bedford Police Department’s policy regarding arrest after an officer physically goes ‘hands-on with a subject”. Lee explained he used discretion in making the decision not to arrest, and was unaware of a policy requiring arrest after an officer goes hands-on with a subject.
Lee stated that he had seen a video of the incident, and if he had been looking to do harm he would not have had his arms hooked into his vest. Lee was asked why his body camera went off during the encounter. Lee stated that he did not know why, but that it does not take much to slide it off. He later realized the camera was not on when he was outside talking with the girlfriend and then turned it on again.
On August 11, 2021, Sgt. Hamilton was interviewed. He stated he did not see Lee get spit on but did see Lee bring the male to the ground. Sgt. Hamilton then secured the male’s legs until Lee allowed the male to stand up. Hamilton stated that no arrest was made because of Captain Lee’s decision not to arrest. Lee was Hamilton’s superior officer.
The investigator also interviewed the male victim.
The male stated that Lee violently slammed him to the floor of the kitchen. It caused the back of the male’s head to hit the floor and caused pain. Lee held the man against the ground with his body weight, and applied his body weight to the man’s neck and throat with his forearm or hand, restricting the male’s breathing and causing pain and fear that Lee was going to strangle him unconscious. The male did say he told Lee to choke him as long as he wanted. Lee then pushed his body up and off of the male by placing his weight on the male’s throat as if doing a pushup. Lee then went outside.
The male was not arrested and stated that at no time during this interaction did he spit on Lee, either on purpose or by accident.
The investigator determined that there was no spitting visible in any of the camera footage.
Following the verbal exchange, Lee can be clearly seen lunging toward the man until Lee’s nose is just inches from the male’s face. Lee places his hands on the male’s chest and pushes the male back toward the refrigerator. Lee then pushes the male down to the floor and gets on top of him.
Based on the investigation, the information was forwarded to Monroe County Senior Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal, who is the special prosecutor assigned to the case and a warrant was issued for Lee’s arrest. The Board of Works recommended Lee’s termination, however, Lee submitted a letter of resignation prior to the termination.