INDIANAPOLIS — Three Indiana circuit judges who were involved in a drunken fight outside an Indianapolis White Castle restaurant in April -- which ended with two of the judges being shot -- have been suspended by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Two Clark County Circuit Court judges, Andrew Adams and Bradley Jacobs, and Crawford County Circuit Judge Sabrina Bell were disciplined in the ruling handed down Tuesday. Adams was suspended without pay for 60 days, while Jacobs and Bell were each suspended without pay for 30 days.
The judges engaged in judicial misconduct that was "not merely embarrassing on a personal level; they discredited the entire Indiana judiciary," the unanimous ruling states.
“All three respondents joined in a profane verbal altercation that quickly turned into physical violence and ended in gunfire, and in doing so, gravely undermined public trust in the dignity and decency of Indiana’s judiciary,” the justices ruled.
The suspensions are serious black marks on the judges’ records.
"A suspension from office without pay, regardless of duration, is not a minor sanction," the ruling states. "Even more than a public reprimand, any such suspension is a significant blemish on a sitting judge's reputation."
The near-deadly incident took place on the night of April 30 after all three judges traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Spring Judicial College the next day, the high court's opinion states. The Spring Judicial College, initiated in 2000, is a professional development conference for judicial officers from across the state.
After checking into their hotel rooms, Adams, Jacobs and Bell spent the evening socializing and drinking with others attending the conference.
Around 12:30 a.m. on May 1, the trio met up with Clark Circuit Court Magistrate William Dawkins at a local bar, where they kept drinking, the opinion states. They attempted to go to a strip club, identified in charging documents as the Red Garter Gentleman's Club, around 3 a.m. but found it to be closed, the document says.
That’s when the four judges walked to a nearby White Castle.
As Dawkins went inside the restaurant, Adams, Jacobs and Bell remained in the parking lot, where two strangers, Alfredo Vazquez and Brandon Kaiser, drove by, the ruling says. The men, both of Indianapolis, shouted something out the car window at the group.
"Judge Bell extended her middle finger to Vazquez and Kaiser, who pulled into the White Castle parking lot and exited the vehicle," the opinion states. "Judge Bell, who was intoxicated, has no memory of the incident but concedes that the security camera video shows her making this gesture."
The two groups began a heated argument, “making dismissive, mocking, or insolent gestures” toward one another, the document says. At no time did the judges try to leave to avoid the confrontation or de-escalate the situation.
That's when the fight turned violent, authorities said. Charging documents indicate the judges moved toward Kaiser and Vazquez prior to the fight turning physical.
Adams and Vazquez began punching and kicking one another, while Jacobs and Kaiser wrestled one another on the ground, according to the charging documents.
"At one point, Judge Jacobs had Kaiser contained on the ground. With his fist raised back, Judge Jacobs said, 'Okay, okay, we're done, we're done,' or 'This is over. Tell me this is over,' or words to that effect," the court ruling states.
Vazquez tried to get Jacobs off of Kaiser, at which point he and Jacobs began tussling, the charging documents say. As Kaiser began to sit up, Adams kicked him in the back.
Kaiser pulled out a gun and opened fire, shooting Adams once in the abdomen and Jacobs twice in the chest, the ruling states.
Bell immediately called 911, the document says. It states she also attempted to stop the fight prior to the gunfire and sought help from people inside the White Castle by banging on the door.
Adams and Jacobs were rushed to different hospitals, where Adams underwent two emergency surgeries, including a colon resection, the ruling says. Jacobs also underwent two surgeries and remained hospitalized for two weeks.
Adams' serum blood alcohol level upon admission to the hospital was 0.213, or about 0.157 using whole blood, the justices wrote. Jacob's serum blood alcohol level was 0.177, or 0.13 using whole blood. Blood serum is the fluid left behind after blood coagulates, or clots.
The legal limit for intoxication in Indiana, like most states, is 0.08.
Bell's blood alcohol level was not tested, but she was "intoxicated enough that she lacks any memory of the incident," the ruling states. The judge, who was taken to the police station to give a statement, told investigators she did not remember what she said to Kaiser and Vazquez, or what started the physical fight.
“However, while on the scene, the media videotaped Judge Bell telling police detectives, in an excited state, ‘I feel like this is all my fault’ or words to that effect. Judge Bell does not remember making this statement,” the ruling states.
Footage from RTV6 in Indianapolis appears to show a tearful, obviously distraught Bell telling an investigator, "I feel like this is my fault." The video shows her pacing and repeatedly running her hands through her hair.
After being told that detectives had video of the incident, Bell told them in a recorded statement that she was afraid she instigated the incident that left her fellow judges seriously injured.
"We're all very good friends, and they're very protective of me," Bell told detectives. "And I don't know, and I'm afraid that I said something to those two strange men at first, and then they said something back to me. And then I said something and then (Adams and Jacobs) went to defend me."
She acknowledged getting “mouthy” when she drinks, the documents says.
"I mean, I fully acknowledge that I drink and get mouthy, and I'm fiery and I'm feisty but, if I would have ever thought for a second that they were gonna fight or that that guy had a gun on him, I would never, never," she said, according to the court.
On May 3, two days after the shooting, police released surveillance footage of the two then-unidentified men with whom the judges had brawled. The footage, broadcast by multiple news stations, shows Bell, Adams and Jacobs standing outside the White Castle as Kaiser and Vazquez pull up in an SUV.
As the two men walk toward the door of the burger restaurant, they appear to stop and turn toward the judges as the verbal sparring begins.
Kaiser, 41, and Vazquez, 23, were arrested four days later, according to The Associated Press. Kaiser initially faced charges of attempted murder, battery, aggravated battery and carrying a handgun without a license.
Vazquez initially faced a charge of assisting a criminal, the AP reported.
A special grand jury on June 28 indicted Adams on two counts of felony battery resulting in moderate injury, four counts of misdemeanor battery and one count of disorderly conduct.
Jacobs was also targeted by the grand jury investigation but ultimately faced no charges. Bell was not under investigation.
Adams was suspended from the bench the day the indictment was handed down. He pleaded guilty on Sept. 9 to a single count of misdemeanor battery resulting in bodily injury, for kicking Kaiser.
The rest of the charges were dismissed, and he was sentenced to a year in jail, with all but two of those days suspended, the ruling states. He was given credit for two days served and spent no time behind bars following the sentencing.
The Indianapolis Star reported at the time that Adams showed remorse during his sentencing hearing, apologizing to his wife and children, as well as to the court, the state judiciary and the State Bar Association.
"This was a regretful situation and an incident that will not happen again," Adams said in court, according to the Star.
See a video on the case by the Star below.
Marion County Judge William Nelson, who presided over Adams’ criminal case, said it was not an easy task, the newspaper said. Nelson was at the judicial conference in Indianapolis when he learned that Adams and Jacobs had been shot.
"Little did I know I would be sitting here (judging) you," Nelson said.
Marion County court records show that Kaiser, who is scheduled for trial in January, faces a total of 14 charges, including eight felony charges. The charges include aggravated battery, battery by means of a deadly weapon and carrying a handgun without a license.
Vazquez, who was ultimately charged with seven felony and misdemeanor crimes, took a plea deal and was sentenced Nov. 1 to 180 days of home confinement and a year of probation on one misdemeanor battery count and a probation violation, the Star reported. He was on probation at the time of the fight for a drunken driving conviction.
"I am remorseful. I feel bad," Vazquez said in court, according to the newspaper.
The state Supreme Court took into account several things when handing down the judges' suspensions, which were agreed upon by all three judges, according to the ruling. It states that none of the judges had prior disciplinary history, and they accepted responsibility and showed remorse.
All three have seen counselors since the incident and have cooperated fully with the probe into their actions, the ruling states. Bell’s attempts to stop the fight and her immediate actions after the shooting were also taken into account, according to the document.
Read the Indiana Supreme Court decision in its entirety below.
"The purpose of judicial discipline is not primarily to punish a judge, but rather to preserve the integrity of and public confidence in the judicial system and, when necessary, safeguard the bench and public from those who are unfit," the ruling states.
The News and Tribune in Clark County reported that Adams admitted in a written statement that he had failed to live up to the standards of his position.
"I am fully aware of the embarrassment I have brought to the Indiana judiciary, my family and specifically my community," Adams said in the statement obtained by the newspaper. "There is not a minute in the day that I don't think about the significant repercussions my actions have caused.
“I take full responsibility for my actions as they neither met my expectations or the expectations placed upon me as a judicial officer.”
He apologized to both his family and the community.
"I am thankful this matter has come to a resolution and for all the prayers and support as I continue to recover from this incident," he said. "With God's grace, I look forward to returning to work and continuing to serve our community. I hope that the community can accept my sincere apology and remorse for my actions."
Jacobs’ attorney, Larry Wilder, expressed similar sentiments on behalf of his client, stating in a news conference that Jacobs nearly lost everything on May 1.
"Today I submit myself to my family and my community and ask forgiveness for my choices on that day," Jacobs said in a statement read by Wilder. "I wholeheartedly apologize for my behavior that evening that has embarrassed the Indiana Supreme Court, my fellow judges and all the members of my chosen profession. I cannot offer any excuse for the events of that evening nor do I attempt to offer any excuses for those choices."
Bell, who the News and Tribune reported represented herself in the proceedings, could not be reached for comment by the newspaper.
Bell, who has served as a circuit judge since 2017, will begin her suspension on Nov. 22 and return to the bench on Dec. 23, the ruling says.
Adams, who took the bench in 2015, has been on interim suspension since his criminal charges were filed. He will return to his position Jan. 13. Jacobs, who was sworn in on the same day as Adams in 2015, will, like Bell, begin his suspension on Nov. 22 and return to the bench on Dec. 23.
Cox Media Group