A Public Information Officer, Sgt. Joe Watts, of the Indiana State Police, surprised everyone and retired one year early last week. I will miss him terribly as I continue to report on the police beat for Indiana Central News. He was excellent at his job, and I've told him many should learn from his example.
At my previous news jobs, police coverage was a side thing for me. I'll always remember Watts because, while working at another online media, NewsBarb, I met him just after a bank was robbed in Farmersburg. This particular incident can be linked to my passion for the crime beat now.
I of course recognized him immediately -- from seeing his face in the local news for decades. He was polite and made a fantastic first impression as I approached him to introduce myself. I still remember how he walked with me right up to the door of the bank, where another ISP officer was checking for fingerprints at the scene. After being told to get back so many times before, I was elated that, this time, I was allowed to get so close and take that picture.
A first for me, as I was in between stories, I stopped at Walmart's parking lot and quickly wrote the bank robbery story and uploaded it to the NewsBarb website. Online news has me hooked.
I had the spotlight for a minute.
As I arrived to the county council meeting at the Sullivan County Courthouse, I was gushing about how I had just come from the bank robbery. The council members were asking for details, and I just prompted them to go to the website. What a moment. I can still picture even Sonner Faught, the late 90-year-old councilman and World War II veteran, peeking over at another councilman's iPhone to see my photos with my story. A wonderful memory for this journalist.
A few months later, after starting the Indiana Central News website, Watts continued to be a vital part of my reporting. I doubt it would have taken off as it did without his valuable contribution of information at so many scenes.
Also, thank you to the few others who have taken time to respond while even on vacation, otherwise off duty or forwarding my request to someone who could answer my questions.
Original post 9/23/18
In light of recent negativity for the last Terre Haute Times blog, I am sharing an email I wrote to ISP Sgt. Joe Watts' supervisor on June 30, 2017. Perhaps I should have posted it sooner, but I was thinking about saving it for closer to his originally planned retirement date in, a year or so.
Dear Lt. Jones,
I appreciate Sgt. Joe Watts' hard work very much, especially in the Vigo County area -- and I have told him that he deserves to be recognized for his outstanding press releases and in-person interviews.
From the very first time I met him as an online news reporter, around four years ago, he has stood out among his counterparts.
Watts' dedication to quality work shows. He always responds in a timely manner. He provides necessary information about events and is fair in reporting to all competing news agencies.
I want to commend him for his professionalism in dealing with the media in his district.
Indiana Central News
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this e-mail about Joe’s performance. I couldn’t agree with you more. This will certainly find it’s way into Joe’s annual performance evaluation and his permanent personnel file.
Terre Haute Police need to improve public information
While I received some positive feedback for the previous Terre Haute Times blog, I have to admit it also brought on its fair share of criticism.
I wrote about my recent bad personal experience with city police. Unfortunately, the newer readers out there assumed I am "anti-police" and stated so in their responses. Little do they know that I follow police news every single day, and the bad experiences have been few and far between.
Another incident stands out in my mind and led to my interest in the police beat. Around the same time I encounterd Watts, and while working for previous online news services, NewsBarb and Examiner, my neighbor alerted me to a standoff just outside my house. That was the first time I observed the Terre Haute Police Department SWAT team in action. I met Assistant Chief Shawn Keen, whom also made a good impression on this reporter. Although, lately Indiana Central News is not hearing much from him.
The Terre Haute Police Department has since become a priority on my local news site -- basically, because they're easiest for me to follow around in the city, even when I'm trying to not be a reporter for a short time of my day. The officials of that department have seen me face-to-face more than any other law enforcement agency I cover. However, since our recent conflict, they have stopped including me in press releases and in any other information for the time being.
I've thought about it.
I haven't expressed my appreciation for the many officers I have spoken with while running Indiana Central News. ICN is still a baby -- my baby. I admit I tend to be defensive when it comes to gathering information, because, in these past three years, it hasn't always been easy.
While I am concerned for THPD's lack of response to me lately, I'm still excited to see what the future has in store for ICN. I make ends meet with revenue generated from my website and admit that my temper gets the best of me if public information officers interfere with my deadlines by not responding to my request for information. Watts has witnessed my temper before and did not block me from emailing or following on social media as Public Information Officer Ryan Adamson has done to me. Adamson has a lot to learn. Like me or not, I am here to stay. It's not about personal opinion, it's about being professional. Your job is to respond. When I see other news media received information I am seeking, I do get annoyed. We are counting on you to get the details straight.
I talk police news all the time.
My adult children get tired of hearing all about crime whenever I see them, but they sure know many of the names of contacts who've become important sources for this news website since the beginning. Some include: THPD Assistant Chief Shawn Keen; ISP Sgt. Joe Watts; Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing and Chief Deputy John Moats; and Sullivan County Sheriff Clark Cottom. I also commend Rob Roberts and Linda Jefferies of the Vigo County Prosecutor's Office and Tim Horty of The Southern District of Indiana US Attorney's Office. Without all of their cooperation, ICN wouldn't have had any success.
A favorite public information officer, Rich Larsen, also had a flair for responding to reporters. He retired recently from Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. As a reporter, I will also miss Sheriff Ewing when he finishes he last term in Vigo County soon, and I have told him that at the most recent crime scene.
Lucy Perry can be reached at email@example.com
Nearly two weeks later, I finally received my Terre Haute City Court summons for the false charge of criminal trespass in the mail today.
A Terre Haute Police Department Detective, Brad Rumsey, is alleging I went on Drury Inn's property after being denied entry Aug. 24. It is a flat out lie and let's hope no further lies are told under oath.
I was not charged with any crime the night of the alleged offense. Thank goodness the other two false charges were not filed after all.
Court is scheduled Sept. 14 at 8:30 a.m. I will be there with bells on. (And ICN of course is always on.)
Ultimately, the off duty police did not force me to leave the area. They never directed traffic nor did they arrange a detour system and they certainly didn't have a sign up with restrictions for traffic listed on a road leading to multiple businesses.
I'll see you in court soon to plead NOT GUILTY to this misdemeanor. Also, I have filed an official complaint against this officer's unprofessional behavior.
This will be updated. See related story.
Lucy Perry can be reached at Lperrynews@gmail.com
Journalist, Terre Haute
Lucy Perry, 46, enjoys writing about issues in her hometown. She periodically expresses personal opinions in her blog, Terre Haute Times.
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News Writer: Lucy Pery PHONE: 317-527-4141