Monday, July 25, 2016

Judge Sally McLaughlin's Court Altered Grand Jury Audio

Part 1 of a two blog series on tampering grand jury audio.

Judge Sally A. McLaughlin
Superior Court IIDearborn County Indiana
The recent release of grand jury audio by the Dearborn Superior Court II (“Court”), under Judge Sally A. McLaughlin, provides conclusive evidence that the Court altered grand jury records, renamed audio files, while billing Dan Brewington for expenses incurred by the Court in altering grand jury audio. The Office of the Dearborn County Prosecutor, under Prosecutor F. Aaron Negangard, made Brewington the target of a grand jury investigation just five days after the Indiana Supreme Court dismissed a complaint against Negangard that was filed by Brewington. Brewington became the target of a grand jury investigation for making “unsubstantiated statements” on the internet about Dearborn County Court Officials filed by Brewington. During Brewington’s trial, the Court and Prosecution provided Brewington with only the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings to determine what aspects of Brewington’s conduct that the Prosecution alleged to be unlawful while knowing the Court altered the records of the grand jury proceedings.

It is important to note that the grand jury audio begins at witness testimony as Judge McLaughlin’s Court omitted Negangard’s introduction to the grand jury from the audio record. The following excerpt from the grand jury transcripts by Prosecutor Negangard is just one example of where the Court altered the record of the grand jury proceedings. The statements in question allegedly occurred on March 1, 2011, in the closing moments of the second day of the grand jury investigation of Brewington. Page 336, lines 23-25 of the grand jury transcripts represent Negangard stating,

“I don't have any further questions at this time. Okay one of the Grand Jurors has a question for Sheriff Krieinhop.”

At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary; however, the transcripts fail to show that Negangard’s second statement comes from a later point in the proceedings. The following visual provides insight into one section of the altered record:


The box in the lower left hand corner shows Negangard’s statements as they appear in the transcripts but Negangard’s second statement exists in a separate audio file later in time. The green audio frequency wave represents a real time account of Negangard’s statements, with one exception. For the purpose of this demonstration, the two separate audio files received from the Court were spliced “as-is” to match Negangard’s dialogue in the transcripts. The placement of Negangard’s spoken words is where the individual words appear in the appropriate digital wavelength. As shown in the diagram, approximately 19 seconds of ambient noise occupy the space between Negangard’s statements. The circled point represents the point where the two audio files are spliced. The transcripts give no indication of the 19-second gap in the audio demonstrated in the wavelength above. Neither the transcripts nor the digital representation of the audio give any indication that the Court secretly removed at least one entire audio file existing in the 19-seconds of silence between Negangard’s two statements. 

Here is where it gets a little technical. Though the file structure is not rocket science, it is impossible to prove Judge McLaughlin’s Court altered the audio without figuring out the file naming structure of the court recording system. In reviewing audio files from public court proceedings, the audio recording systems in place for court reporting in Dearborn County Courts automatically store audio from court proceedings in individual five-minute files. In addition, the date and time are included in the automated file naming process. If an hour-long hearing occurs in the Superior Court II on July 4, 2016 at 10:00am, the first audio file name would include “Superior 2_20160704_1000”. In five minutes, the recording system automatically creates a new audio file, which would include “Superior 2_20160704_1005” in the following new file name. Every five minutes the name changes with the time: 1010, 1015, 1020 and so on. If you request public trial audio from a specific date, the court will provide a CD-R with similarly named five-minute files. When the Indiana Public Access Counsel issued his opinion (April 14, 2016) in favor of releasing the grand jury audio, the Court filed an order to release an edited version of the grand jury audio. The Court’s April 20, 2016 order made a new allegation that the audio of “four to five” other grand jury proceedings were intertwined with Brewington’s proceedings. Due to the new claim of confidential grand jury audio allegedly intertwined with Brewington’s grand jury proceedings, the Court’s order directed McLaughlin’s court reporter to edit the grand jury audio to include only portions of audio pertaining to Brewington. The Court changed the file format of the audio to an editable .wav file and combined the individual audio files. When the Court combined audio files, it retained the file name of the first audio file in the compilation. When the Court cut out segments of the audio, it began a new compilation of audio files and retained the name of the next audio segment that the Court decided to include in the "official" record. Negangard's statement on line 23 is the last statement appearing on the file named “Superior 2_20110301-1606_01cbd82ab1003d00”. Negangard's statement appearing on line 24 is located in the file named “Superior 2_20110301-1622_01cbd82cedc39690”. The first file began at 16:06 (4:06 pm) and the second at 16:22 (4:22 pm). The length of the audio in the first file is 10 minutes and 36, which would end at roughly 16:17. The earliest point that Negangard's statement on line 24 could have occurred is at 16:22. The audio is void of Negangard making any verbal recognition of the beginning or end of the record. Because a gap of over five minutes exists between the two audio files, the Court deleted at least an entire audio file from the grand jury audio released to Brewington. A problem arises if Judge McLaughlin claims the audio files from the grand jury proceedings do not adhere to the five-minute file structure employed by normal record keeping by the Court. If McLaughlin contends that the Court has the ability to control the length of time by which files are stored simply by switching the recording on and off, any confidentiality concerns about intertwining grand jury investigations are rendered moot, because the audio from the other proceedings would be stored in their own individual files. The argument would completely debunk the Court’s rationalization for altering grand jury audio. The fact Judge McLaughlin’s Court did not physically splice the audio does not make the crime any less egregious. Not splicing the audio is far more insidious as only altering the grand jury transcripts requires a joint effort by the prosecutor and the court. The release of grand jury transcripts is extremely rare and the release of audio is almost unheard of. If not for the release of the grand jury audio and an understanding of the file structure produced by Dearborn County Court reporting, Negangard and McLaughlin could continue to abuse the grand jury process.

Prosecutor F. Aaron Negangard
Dearborn County, Indiana
There should be little doubt as to whether Prosecutor F. Aaron Negangard and Judge Sally A. McLaughlin are aware of the procedures involved with recording grand jury proceeding. For several years, Negangard served as Chief Deputy Prosecutor under McLaughlin until McLaughlin’s 2006 appointment to her current position of Superior Court II Judge, where Negangard was subsequently appointed take over McLaughlin’s position of Dearborn County Prosecutor. According to Negangard’s recent endorsement of Indiana Attorney General Candidate Curtis Hill, Negangard served as Chairman and President of both the Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council and the Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorney’s Council. In early 2016, McLaughlin went through the interview process as an applicant for a vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court. Any claim of ignorance about simple court reporting procedure is not a defense in this case.

This is Part 1 of a two-blog series on the analysis of the release of the grand jury audio. Part 2 takes aim at the conflicting orders and letters in the Court’s attempts to obstruct access to the tampered records. There are many other examples where the transcripts and audio do not match up. As the Dearborn County Superior Court II threatened to hold Brewington in contempt for sharing the grand jury audio (altered by the Superior Court II), the audio is not available online but may be shared with individuals who express interest via email. Feel free to contact Dan Brewington at contactdanbrewington@gmail.com with any questions or comments. Feel free to share with others, especially law enforcement. 

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