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By ROGER MOON
ENGLISH – Current Cannnelton City Schools Superintendent Alva Sibbitt Jr. will serve 30 days of home incarceration for the Class D felony resisting law enforcement count that a Crawford County jury convicted him of on Oct. 2.
Crawford Circuit Court Judge K. Lynn Lopp issued an 18-month sentence Monday, and then suspended all but the 30 days. Under the terms of home incarceration, Sibbitt will be allowed to travel to and from work. Lopp issued – and then suspended – sentences for three remaining counts for which Sibbitt was found guilty. They were: 18 months for intimidation, a Class D felony; one year for resisting law enforcement, a Class A misdemeanor; and one year for criminal recklessness, a Class A misdemeanor.
Sibbitt also will be placed on probation for one year. Scott Callahan, Sibbitt’s attorney, asked that Lopp immediately enter the two felonies as misdemeanors. Lopp instead ruled that Sibbitt, at the end of his probation period, could petition the court then to ask that the felonies be modified to misdemeanors.
“I don’t think anyone walks away from here with a good feeling,” Lopp said after announcing the sentence.
Callahan had asked Lopp take a number of mitigating circumstances into consideration, and Orange County Prosecutor Kelly Minton also asked aggravating circumstances be considered. As aggravating circumstances, Minton characterized Sibbitt as having demonstrated a lack of respect for law enforcement and as being in need of rehabilitation that could best be provided by commitment to a penal facility.
As another aggravating circumstance, Minton said a reduced sentence or probation “would depreciate the seriousness of the crime.”
In issuing his sentence, Lopp said the aggravating factors were outweighed by the mitigating circumstances, including that Sibbitt was not a likely to re-offend and he had no criminal history before his arrest in December 2010.
Lopp also said he had considered Sibbitt’s age; he was 68 at the time the incident occurred. A number of character witnesses spoke on Sibbitt’s behalf, testifying that the behavior that led to Sibbitt’s arrest was uncharacteristic of him and also saying they wouldn’t want to see his job at Cannelton jeopardized.
They said he is well-suited for guiding the school system away from its financial struggles. Among those who spoke were Paoli attorney J.C. Tucker, former Paoli Principal James Babcock and former Paoli school board members Joe Kimmel and James Walters.
Orange Circuit Court Judge Larry Blanton also spoke, but in response to questions from Callahan conveyed that it is unusual for a judge to serve as a character witness, and that he had discouraged Callahan from calling him but he had been subpoenaed nevertheless.
Blanton said he would speak only about his friendship with Sibbitt and would not offer thoughts on what he believed would be appropriate in sentencing because it was not his “province.”
Arrest and Trial
Sibbitt’s arrest stemmed from a traffic stop in Paoli. Indiana State Police Trooper Robert Lambert stopped Sibbitt on Water Street for a seat belt violation. Lambert testified during a weeklong trial that Sibbitt also had disregarded two stop signs, that his speech was slurred and that he had an open container in his car, leading Lambert to request that Sibbitt take a portable breath test. Sibbitt declined, and Lambert told him he would be cited for refusal. Sibbitt testified that he told Lambert he believed he had a right to take a test at the jail and that he asked Lambert to take him to the jail or to follow him there.
Police say that, when Lambert went back to his car to write Sibbitt a ticket for refusal, Sibbitt rammed the back end of the school-owned vehicle he was driving into Lambert’s police car. Sibbitt then was arrested, taken to the Orange County Jail and then to the hospital in Paoli.
He was checked and was administered a test that revealed he had not been drinking. Callahan maintained throughout the trial that Lambert had no reasonable suspicion to request that Sibbitt take the breath test and had violated Sibbitt’s constitutional rights.
Lambert testified that he had in fact been wrong in telling Sibbitt that he could be cited for refusing to take the test. In Callahan’s closing statements at the trial, he said police had omitted, from the report of the incident, any facts that were favorable to Sibbitt, including the test results showing Sibbitt had not been using alcohol or drugs.
As the trial neared an end, Callahan said of Sibbitt, “Let’s face it. He made a bad decision. That’s not a crime. Al Sibbitt is not a criminal. He has never been arrested in his life.” Minton, addressing the jury after Callahan spoke, said the defense strategy to suggest “the cops are liars” was not a novel approach. “He wants you to focus on the police actions, but not on the defendant’s actions,” Minton said, “That’s what they would have you believe, that this was all part of a conspiracy to ruin Dr. Sibbitt’s reputation,” Minton said. Minton said, “No one denies that the defendant is a good superintendent. He certainly has accomplished much within his career.”
But Minton said those accomplishments did not entitle Sibbitt to be above the law. In calling upon the jury to find Sibbitt guilty, Minton said, “It’s not because of who he is, but because of what he’s done. The defendant is responsible for his actions.”