Ethics Commission Seeks Input From Politicians Linked To Questionable Traffic Stop

By Jeff Neumeyer

July 20, 2012 Updated Jul 20, 2012 at 6:21 PM EDT

Fort Wayne, Ind.(Indiana's NewsCenter) -- The Allen County Ethics Commission says it wants more information before deciding what to do about a complaint filed against two high ranking county officials over a traffic stop in June.

County councilman Paul Moss was pulled over June 2nd on suspicion he had been driving drunk.

During the stop, Moss called Sheriff Ken Fries and a decision was made that Moss would be let go without being subjected to a breathalyzer test.

A former county employee filed an ethics complaint June 18th, alleging that the actions of the two elected officials represented a conflict of interest.

The ethics commission met Friday, taking up the matter.

The commission could have dismissed the complaint, if it had found the issue was outside the scope of the panel’s control.

But by a 2 to 1 vote, the commission decided to give Moss and Fries 30 days to file written responses to the allegations.

" I was not compelled to move the commission to dismiss it outright at this point,” said Tom Hardin, a local attorney and member of the commission. “I think that giving Sheriff Fries and Councilman Moss an opportunity to respond would be appropriate, and they very well may bring up those issues, and that would help us, I think, in our ultimate decision on how we resolve this complaint."

Hardin and local business owner Wendy Stein voted in favor of seeking input from the politicians involved.

Retired Judge Tom Ryan voted against forwarding a copy of the complaint to Fries and Moss, seeking their responses.

Neither of the men at the center of the controversy attended the Friday hearing.

Sheriff Fries never responded to our request for comment.

Moss provided a statement to the commission before the hearing, saying he felt the complaint was without merit.

It read in part, “I have reviewed the complaint and it appears that the primary issue of concern is my ability to impact the sheriff’s budget via my role on county council. As one of seven members of council I have limited influence over department budgets within county government. However, in order to avoid any perception of impropriety, I will abstain from the upcoming budget vote for the sheriff's department."

The letter went on to say, “This is an unfortunate situation that is based on a great deal of erroneous information and supposition, and I regret my role in it.”

The incident might never have come to light, if a city patrol officer hadn’t filed a police report following the traffic stop.

That officer claimed in the report that based on direction from Sheriff Fries “we were to disregard any further.”

Shortly after the incident, Sheriff Fries disputed the notion he gave the command for Moss to be turned loose, saying he told the investigating officer it was his discretion whether Moss should submit to a sobriety test.

If Moss and Fries do respond to the ethics commission, those statements theoretically could be used against them in any other kind of investigation.

Expect the responses will be crafted with care.

The commission plans to take up the issue again September 7th.

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