La PORTE — A La Porte County couple has been charged in connection with the death of their 4-year-old son, and are behind bars at the La Porte County Jail awaiting initial court hearings.
Alan Dale Morgan, 28, faces charges of murder, neglect of a dependent, and cruelty to an animal. Mary Elizabeth Yoder, 26, is charged with neglect, cruelty to an animal and failure to make a report.
La Porte County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a residence in the 3100 East block of CR-875S, just east of Kingsford Heights in rural Union Township, after a woman called 911 around 2:45 a.m. Monday to report an unconscious child.
Upon arrival at the home, deputies said they were unable to rouse anyone inside by knocking, so let themselves in through an unlocked door.
Detective Jacob Koch, who wrote the probable cause affidavit in the case, said no adults were present, but four children were found inside the house, which smelled of urine and was filled with garbage, rotting food and animal feces.
Three of the children were taken from the home via ambulance, although the affidavit does not state whether they were injured.
But 4-year-old Judah Morgan, referred to as Victim 1 throughout the document, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“Deputy Wells reported that he observed Victim 1 to be nude, covered in a blanket, and had bruises all over his body,” Koch writes.
He noted the boy had no pulse and was cool to the touch, and that bruises and red marks were present on and around his face and head.
The residence was secured with crime scene tape; and a search warrant was obtained from a county judge.
As the deputies executed their search, they found two cats walking freely throughout the residence and an “extremely malnourished” dog inside a small crate filled with urine, feces and matted hair, Koch writes.
They noted the kitchen refrigerator was closed with a cord secured by a lock, preventing anyone from opening it.
The basement was described as cold and dark with no working lights; and it was there that deputies say they found several pieces of silver and camouflage duct tape “strewn about.”
“A small training infant style toilet was located in the basement containing what appeared to be urine and fecal matter,” the affidavit states. “A large ‘fluffy’ blanket was located in the basement with small pieces of silver duct tape attached to it and the smell of urine emitting from it. A small, toddler-size pair of sweatpants was located in the basement which also smelled of urine.”
The Sheriff’s Office asked law enforcement agencies in the area to be on the lookout for Morgan and his vehicle, and he was located in Knox at 7:13 a.m.
Morgan was arrested without incident, and booked at the La Porte County Jail, where he remains without bond.
In the affidavit, Koch references deputies’ interview with Yoder, the mother of the four children.
“Mary made admissions that she was aware what Alan was doing to Victim 1; however, she states she was afraid of Alan and could not stop him,” he writes. “Mary said she tried to stop Alan verbally by telling him things like ‘That’s enough,’ and ‘Leave him alone’.”
According to Yoder, Judah was sent to the basement as a punishment for not being potty trained like his three siblings.
The lights were intentionally turned off as a “punishment/scare tactic,” and food was also withheld from Judah, Koch writes.
“Mary said Alan would bind Victim 1 by using duct tape and would also physically abuse him,” the affidavit states. “Mary said she personally saw and heard these things happening. Mary said she would also send Victim 1 to the basement as a punishment while Alan was at work; however, Mary denied [binding] or beating Victim 1 herself.”
Yoder estimated Judah was sent to the basement three times weekly, but did not say over the course of how long. She reportedly told investigators he was sometimes left there for multiple days at a time.
Because there is no bed in the basement and he was often forced to go down there naked, Judah was provided the fuzzy blanket, Yoder said.
“Mary admitted that she knew Victim 1 had a lot of visible bruises,” the affidavit states. “Mary said Victim 1 was in the basement last time she saw him on 10/9/21, which was when she left the house on her way to the hospital to give birth. Mary made comments that she could’ve put a stop to this but didn’t.”
Deputies note that a birthday party for Victim 3 took place at the home on Sunday; and Morgan explained Judah’s absence to family by saying he was at Yoder’s friend’s house.
“Mary was questioned about where Victim 1 was on Sunday during Victim 3’s birthday party,” Koch writes. “Mary was at the hospital at this time and said Victim 1 was at home.”
Victim 2, Judah’s 7-year-old brother and the eldest of the children, told Dunebrook staff during a forensic interview that he had seen his mother and father take Judah to the basement on multiple occasions, sometimes together and sometimes individually, the affidavit states.
The boy reportedly said he has heard yelling and “skin-to-skin contact” at those times.
Victim 2 said in his interview that he had witnessed his father hit Judah with his hands, as well as use silver and camouflage duct tape to bind the toddler’s arms behind his back, as well as his ankles.
As for Judah’s whereabouts on Sunday during the birthday party, the boy said the toddler was “in the basement where he normally is.”
An autopsy conducted Tuesday determined Judah’s manner of death to be homicide, and his cause of death to be “blunt force head trauma causing a massive subdural hematoma,” the affidavit states.
La Porte County Coroner Lynn Swanson said, “Malnutrition and neglect are contributory to injuries.”
Morgan is charged with murder for Judah’s death.
If he should be convicted, the state has filed its intent to pursue a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Morgan is also charged with a Level 5 felony count of neglect of a dependent for cruelly confining Judah by using tape to restrain him; and another Level 5 felony neglect charge for confining his son while depriving him of access to “necessary sanitary facilities.”
Three Level 6 felony counts of neglect are related to the three other children in the home, who were living in “a situation that endangered life or health.”
The animal cruelty charge related to the dog is a Class A misdemeanor.
Combined, Morgan’s charges carry a potential sentence of up to 85.5 years in prison.
Yoder is charged with neglect of a dependent resulting in death as a Level 1 felony; neglect of a dependent as a Level 5 felony; cruelty to an animal as a Class A misdemeanor; and failure to make a report as a Class B misdemeanor.
Her charges are punishable by a combined 47.5 years upon conviction.
Yoder is also being held at the jail on a cash-only bond of $100,005.
Both are charged in La Porte County Circuit Court, where their initial hearings have yet to be scheduled.
MICHIGAN CITY — Michigan City kids will have another place to pick up free books to read with the installation of the city’s latest Little Free Library by the Michiana Lions Club.
On Tuesday, a ceremony was held to officially open the new reading box at the Paladin Head Start program at Niemann Elementary School on Royal Road.
Head Start’s volunteer “Book Grandma” Cheryl Chapman praised the effort.
“Although I haven’t been able to volunteer in person at Head Start, in my usual job of being their ‘Book Grandma,’ I am glad to at least have been able to coordinate this Little Library, to supplement what our very dedicated teaching staff have been doing all along.
“Being an author of children’s picture books myself, I am really into literacy in any way we can bring it to children and families.”
At a community meeting last spring, the literacy task force suggested Head Start families might appreciate a Little Free Library in front of the school. Thanks to the Michiana Lions Club, it has happened, Chapman said.
She thought it was a great idea and, coordinating with Michiana Lions Club member Jamie Miller, the project was started.
Lions members Tim Fizer and Brian Pagels designed, built, painted and installed the library, and invited Mayor Duane Parry to the ribbon cutting.
Little Free Libraries are a national movement to increase literacy – basically an “on your honor” book trading system. Patrons visit the library, choose a book to take home, and replace it with a book of their own.
“Little Free Libraries are mini book houses mounted mailbox style on a post, and people in the neighborhood, or who use the building the library is in front of, are encouraged to ‘give a book, take a book,’ Chapman said.
“However, these libraries are so popular that we do have to keep restocking them – kids do love to keep their books, and I don’t mind!”
Head Start is a big proponent of reading, she said. It serves preschoolers throughout La Porte County, and “last year, during the pandemic, each Head Start family was given picture books for their own home library.”
Chapman, a former Head Start parent, said, “When Synthia Saint James was illustrating our story, ‘Snow on Snow on Snow,’ the book company wanted her to paint a window in the main character’s bedroom – but she insisted on painting a book shelf!
“Aside from a bed, there is nothing more important in a child’s bedroom than the bookshelf! And here at Head Start, books are No. 1 as well!”
Miller, who served mistress of ceremonies Tuesday, thanked everyone present for helping in so many ways, and announced that Parry is donating the official registration for the newest Little Free Library.
The new library is the fourth to be built by the Michiana Lions in Michigan City – the others are near Gardena Park, Imagination Station and the Sand Castle Shelter, with a fifth planned for Trinity Episcopal Church, Miller said.
Chapman added the city’s homeless population also “love” to use the boxes “because they don’t have an address and can’t get a regular library card.”
After education manager Aprille Baylock cut the ribbon, Head Start director Theresa Argueta, board member Janice Katz, and various staff members took Parry and the visitors on a tour of the school.
And at some point soon, each classroom will take a “tour” of the new box, and teachers will show children how to take and trade a book, so they can teach their parents, Chapman said.
La PORTE — The ongoing war of words between county officials has taken up a lot of time at county meetings, led to a bevy of uncomplimentary emails and even a lawsuit.
And it could soon end up costing taxpayers money, though one of the involved parties says he’s trying to do just the opposite.
On Wednesday, attorney Alan Sirinek said he’s been retained as special counsel by the La Porte County Board of Commissioners after county Auditor Timothy Stabosz refused to pay a claim approved by the board for legal services from county attorney Shaw Friedman.
On Tuesday, Stabosz issued a statement explaining his reasoning, lashing out at Commissioner Rich Mrozinski, and continuing to criticize Friedman.
Sirinek’s statement said after being retained to file a mandamus action, basically a lawsuit compelling Stabosz to pay the bill, “my normal course of action would be to reach out to the opposing party to seek an amiable and timely resolution as being in the best interests and least expense for all parties.
“However, even before such an effort can be attempted, Auditor Stabosz undertakes an insulting effort of name-calling to our elected commissioner and the county attorney ... under the imaginary guise of his personal crusade against Attorney Friedman.”
Sirinek said he’s offering the auditor “a face-saving way to avoid the expense and trouble connected with this litigation if he will simply pay the approved claim” by Friday.
The attorney said that he had “no intention of invoicing the county for efforts familiarizing myself with the source of this dispute. That will change come Monday.”
According to Stabosz, the “disputed claims represent roughly $1,000, dating back to Friedman & Associates’ Aug. 15 commission billing, where documentation I have requested has not been provided to me, in order to audit the claim properly.
“This, despite the fact that Friedman willingly provided a similar request for documentation, related to his July 15 billing. All the items requested are owned by the public, therefore, the refusal to provide them is an affront, and makes me concerned that there is a willful attempt to hide something here.”
Sirinek countered that the auditor “has no justification under Indiana law” to withhold payment on an itemized claim approved by the commissioners.
“His belief of a right to information protected by attorney-client privilege and the Work Product Doctrine is baseless, as is his reliance of this claim to deny payment ... No attorney would submit to such a request, particularly for such a bogus justification of itemized billing entries.”
He said Stabosz’s “trivializing the withholding of $1,000 in earned services” is an affront to all taxpayers.
Stabosz said he offered to meet with the Commissioners to discuss this issue.
“The notion that they would, instead, waste taxpayer money, over $1,000 in claims that I haven’t even formally declined to pay yet, but have simply sought additional documentation for, is the height of idiocy.”
He said the commissioners do not have the right to unilaterally order the auditor to pay a claim, and there is a separation of powers in the state constitution for a reason.
“The auditor of La Porte County has a separate responsibility to audit claims, and, among other things, ensure a legitimate governmental purpose, as well as that elements of a claim for professional services comport with the underlying contract for services.”
Sirinek said “withholding payment for services rendered is ‘above his paygrade.’ I urge the county auditor to put aside this personal and childish vendetta, and simply pay the balance due ... Starting Monday, I can only promise that your vendetta will become a lot more expensive.”
Stabosz – who has been critical of Friedman since before taking office, to the point of being named in a pending civil lawsuit claiming defamation – and Commissioner Joe Haney have recently questioned what they call Friedman overstepping the authority of a county attorney.
“What exactly is the county attorney’s job and what is he allowed to do?” Haney asked at the Oct. 6 board meeting.
“The commission earlier this year, Jan. 6, voted to hire Friedman and Associates as county attorney. There’s no contract there. There’s nothing. We didn’t even fix compensation.
“I believe it will go a long way to help the auditor and myself ... to have a contract with the county attorney specifically delineating the role of county attorney and what they’re allowed to do.”
Haney said “we have a county attorney who basically, in the emails I’ve received back from him ... pretty much says I can do whatever I want as long as I can get one of the commissioners to go along with it. I don’t think that’s appropriate.
“You basically have hired a county manager at this point ... I’ve never seen a point where any outside contractor comes in, tells the employer what their job is, what they can do and you got to pay...”
Mrozinski, getting back to the billing, said, “What we’re voting on here, Mr. Haney, is bills that were turned in; we all had the opportunity to review them, and we all voted for them.
“You voted for them. You voted to pay the bill. The auditor has taken it upon himself to disregard orders of the commissioners and not pay them. If he refuses that, there is a remedy ...”
“Absolutely I voted for this,” Haney replied. “I continue to ask questions to figure out, have I been voting for things I shouldn’t have been, and I can’t get an answer for that.”
Commissioner Sheila Matias said the whole debate is counterproductive.
“Between our last meeting and this meeting, Mr. Haney went to prosecutor [John] Lake, alleging criminal action by the county attorney, talking about possible misappropriation and fraud, vague answers.
“Mr. Haney keeps ... calling Mr. Friedman insubordinate. I guess my concern is that, first of all, we’ve veered from professionalism and that’s a problem for me. Second of all, we are doing exactly what is required, according to what our prosecutor says.”
In an email to Haney on Sept. 30, Lake said “based on the attorney general’s opinion and caselaw I reviewed, the county attorney’s duties are very broad and would touch on anything that has to do with the county on any matter.”
Lake went on: “Since there is no written contract limiting the county attorney’s duties, then it would be implied that he has the authority, obligation and duty to provide legal services on anything remotely concerning county business.
“Absent any limitation, his services necessarily cover the entire gamut of county interests ... frankly, I believe that as long as there is some nexus to county business, Mr. Friedman will have the duty to represent the county’s interests and such action no matter how remote, would be valid.”
Part of the duty of a lawyer is to be an “advisor and instructor,” Lake said.
“Instead of doing the work on the county commission fixing this county, working on projects to help build the county and build our infrastructure, and our health and welfare, we’re focused on the county attorney,” Matias said.
“... the bills that I have seen that have been rejected by the auditor where he’s questioning – one email had 18 questions – and it was questioning, basically, the direction of this commission to tell our lawyer, ‘Please look at this, advise us on this.’
“To me, it seems like we are like a dog chasing our tail. ... The voters entrusted us the honor of serving them. We need to focus on that service.”
Haney corrected Matias, stating he did not contact the prosecutor about Friedman, but a private citizen did.
However, a copy of an email from Haney to Lake said he “had concerns” about billings from Friedman and Associates that would revolve around “possible misappropriation/fraud.”
When questioned, Friedman’s “answers thus far have been vague and quite obtuse, if not downright insubordinate at times,” Haney wrote.
Despite Lake’s opinion, Stabosz wrote in his email to Mrozinski, “Be forewarned that if you pursue this course, I will bypass the county prosecutor, and directly refer you, and Commissioner Matias to the Indiana Attorney General, for possible criminal prosecution, and seek the AG’s direct involvement as an ombudsman, to defend this office, and that of all county auditors.”
According to Matias, a State Board of Accounts audit last year found no wrongdoing.
“The State Board of Accounts comes and tears apart the books year after year. They came here last year and they spent weeks looking at all these bills Mr. Friedman, Mr. Biege, other attorneys, other professional advisors have submitted for payment.
“They did not find, to my knowledge, any errors, any fraud, any corruption, any overbilling,” she said.
Sirinek said Stabosz “has made very clear as to his distaste for the legally appointed county attorney.
“While he has made this distaste well known since prior to assuming office, this personal vendetta orchestrated by the La Porte County Auditor is not only counterproductive to the operation of good government, but is only going to serve as a continuing waste of taxpayer money for wasteful and unnecessary litigation.”
La PORTE — A new roof, lighting and other upgrades are being planned for the La Porte Civic Auditorium.
An ordinance to appropriate $600,046 out of the ARP Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund was introduced at last week’s La Porte City Council meeting. The funds would be used to upgrade lighting, roofing and abate asbestos in the auditorium.
According to the proposed ordinance, the appropriation will aid in attracting and hosting additional events, which will improve tourism, travel and hospitality in La Porte.
“We’ve committed that the Civic has been here 100 years. It’s the people’s house. We want it to be there for another 100 years,” Mayor Tom Dermody said.
The appropriation will be voted on at the Oct. 18 council meeting.
The La Porte Park Board previously approved the first stage of projects being considered for the Civic at its Sept. 15 meeting.
La Porte Parks Superintendent Mark Schreiber said they want to make sure the building, which was gifted to La Porte in 1930 by the Fox family, stays viable.
“The Civic Auditorium is our citizens’ building since being gifted to the city well over 90 years ago. We feel like there’s an obligation to ensure its viability for the next generation, for tourism, for recreation, for community service,” he said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Civic was used as a year-long base for testing and vaccinations, as well as a site for food drives.
“We are currently reopened as a testing site. We are a first option for the community for emergency sheltering. We do feel this is important,” Schreiber said.
One of the improvements being looked at is an LED light upgrade. The biggest impact of the lighting improvements would be seen in the main area of the auditorium where basketball games, concerts, trade shows, exhibits and other events are held. Another addition would be replacing existing track stage lights.
“That’s to create better energy efficiency, but also better event lighting. The lighting is very antiquated,” Schreiber said.
Officials are also looking at doing a fleece back roof, he said. The repairs would include a new roof, as well as replacing retrofits for roof drains.
“We currently do have an issue with a leaky roof causing water damage throughout the building, even as far down as the basement when we get a really heavy rain in there,” Schreiber said.
“It’s something we were told is necessary. We need to have it within the next two or three years. This is obviously a great opportunity to do so.”
Additionally, an asbestos report will be completed.
“Obviously this is an older building. With that, we’re also asking for $100,000 in contingency based upon what we might find there in that report,” Schreiber said. “Some of the asbestos remediation might happen with future projects.”
Schreiber said they expect to do further renovations on the Civic Auditorium.
“This first stage, we felt, was where we wanted to get going and get it done this year – hopefully get the roof on, get the lighting and everything done before the end of the year.”