CARROLL COUNTY, Ind. — A Carroll County Sheriff’s deputy has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Sheriff Tobias Leazenby and the sheriff’s office claiming that he was the victim of political retaliation for his unsuccessful attempt to campaign in next month’s general election.
“Upon Thomas’s information and belief, Leazenby and others in the CCSO did not approve of Thomas running for office, in part because Thomas had made suggestions and offered assistance in the investigation of a high-profile child homicide investigation, which was overruled and which Leazenby and others in the CSCO feared would become publicized as a result of the campaign and/or Thomas’s potential election.”
Sheriff Leazenby did not respond to a request for comment.
When the bodies of Abby Williams and Libby German were discovered below the Monon High Bridge in February of 2017, Thomas was the Chief Deputy of Carroll County, the second highest ranking of 12 deputies in the sheriff’s office.
As Delphi was immediately flooded with Indiana State Troopers, FBI agents and detectives from other agencies, Thomas took a lead role in assisting in the investigation.
”The bigger agencies were involved from Day One so I was deeply involved in the beginning.”
That involvement included conversations with then-Carroll County Prosecutor Robert Ives.
”This crime is unique to this area as well as pretty much a lot of different areas and there are experts out there that have dealt with this sort of thing before and I believe that it could have been very beneficial,” said Thomas. ”In the very first few weeks of the double homicide, I wanted to bring experts in and I was given that task by the Carroll County Prosecutor and basically they didn’t like what I had to say and it kind of went downhill from there.”
Ives confirmed those conversations to FOX59 News.
“I do recall discussing with Chief Deputy Mike Thomas the possibility of seeking additional experts in the Delphi case,” Ives wrote. “I thought there were aspects of the investigation that needed experts, that the team had not sought.”
Thomas said his assignment by the prosecutor to seek outside experts was not well received by the leadership of the investigation.
”I feel that since that moment that I had a disagreement with the sheriff about this investigation that it’s went downhill ever since,” he said. ”I just felt like there were certain individuals within the command structure that didn’t want to go in that direction.”
“Why not?” I asked.
“That’s a good question,” said Thomas.
During his abbreviated campaign for sheriff, Thomas said that in open forums and conversations with county residents, he heard undertones of community dissatisfaction with the meager results of not only the Delphi investigation but also into the probe of four young girls who died in an unsolved home arson in Flora in 2016 and the lack of information that was forthcoming in either case.
“A lot of them just wanted to know more about what’s going on in the county with the sheriff’s department involvement and so forth and sometimes they felt like they weren’t seeing the whole picture.”
Thomas’ run for office ended with a loss in the May primary to a candidate who he said was chosen by Leazenby to succeed him and who promised the outgoing sheriff he could have the Chief Deputy’s post in a new administration.
”Three days after the election, I was demoted back down to the road,” said Thomas. ”I was pulled into the sheriff’s office and he spoke to me about it and handed me a letter about it and basically said, ‘Due to recent events, I’m taking you back down to patrol level.’”
Thomas said Leazenby replaced him as Chief Deputy with Detective Tony Liggett, his choice to become the next sheriff, who was the CCSO lead investigator on the Delphi case.
”I feel like it was due to my debates that we’ve had and being outspoken about transparency in the department and so forth,” said Thomas, analyzing why he thinks he ended up on the sheriff’s wrong side. “In those actions, I believe he didn’t like what I had to say.
”Our county was hurt and they’re looking for someone to fill the position to make the county better and make it well again and a good thriving place to live.”
Thomas’ lawsuit was filed two weeks before the upcoming November election, which his attorney insisted is a coincidence of timing and was not intended to affect the outcome of the sheriff’s race results.
”I think when you go into a case like this, you have questions about what someone’s motivations were, and you have indications that based on the circumstances and timing and things like that being what they are,” said Nicholas Snow. ”I believe my client ran for office and suggested improvements that could be made to the office in the course of his campaign which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.”
Snow admits that under state law a sheriff has the right to assign employees at his or her discretion.
”We have a constitutional right to our political opinions and the ability to run for office for a person that meets the qualifications and meets the pre-requisites that there are for holding that office, we have a constitutionally protected right to do that, that is the way our system is supposed to work,” the attorney continued. ”An employee does have the constitutional right to have a political opinion and should not face retaliation on that basis.”
Thomas claims his demotion has cost him an increase in salary, reduced authority, reassignment to a disadvantageous 12-hour road shift, demeaning comments, concerns about his own personal safety while on patrol and the overruling of his decisions.
Nevertheless, Thomas said he would recommend the next sheriff take a stronger hand in updating the community on its unsolved criminal investigations and take the lead in correcting rumors and conspiracy theories that swirl around the Delphi case on social media.
”I would say, take a look at everything, speak to people that have been in similar situations and what they have learned from these types of investigations and go from there and be transparent with the public as much as you possibly can without losing the integrity of the case,” he said. ”With all these conspiracies and theories and stuff like that, it’s law enforcement’s job to try to put a stop to some of this stuff because it’s not doing the case any good.”
Thomas has not been directly involved in the Delphi investigation for several years.
I asked him if he thought the case would ever be solved.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Read the lawsuit below: