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Sibbitt trial begins

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Cannelton schools superintendent faces pair of felonies

By KEVIN KOELLING

Managing Editor

ENGLISH – A jury was selected Tuesday and opening arguments were scheduled for Wednesday morning to begin a trial for Cannelton Schools Superintendent Alva Sibbitt for acts he allegedly committed in December 2010.

As the News reported Dec. 19, 2011, the Cannelton School Board employed Sibbitt, first as a fiscal consultant, then later as interim superintendent, with at least one board member knowing he faced charges for allegedly ramming an Indiana State Police car after a traffic stop.

Sibbitt is alleged to have run two stop signs after a trooper initiated a stop for failure to wear seat belts.

“Trooper (Robbie) Lambert made his initial contact with Sibbitt and was returning to his patrol vehicle when Sibbitt put his vehicle in reverse and struck Trooper Lambert’s patrol car,” a report at theindychannel.com said. “Lambert immediately returned to Sibbitt’s vehicle, and after a brief struggle, Sibbitt was placed in handcuffs. Sibbitt was arrested on charges of resisting law enforcement with a vehicle and intimidation, both felonies. He also faces misdemeanor charges of resisting law enforcement and criminal recklessness.”

Intimidation is a Class D felony when a threat is communicated to an officer; and resisting arrest, criminal recklessness and criminal mischief, all Class A misdemeanors. Conviction on the Class D felonies could result in a year-and-a-half prison sentence for each, with an identical amount of time added if aggravating circumstances are proven. A Class A misdemeanor could mean a year’s incarceration.

Sibbitt was superintendent for Paoli schools at the time and was on his way home from work when the traffic stop occurred. 

His attorney requested a change of venue from Orange County because of pretrial publicity the case had received, according to a February report in the Times-Mail, which serves Bedford and Lawrence counties. Sibbitt had been accepted for the same position at Mitchell Community Schools, but that school board canceled his contract after learning of the allegations.

Beginning with a pool of approximately 30 possible jurors Tuesday, Crawford Circuit Court Judge Kenneth L. Lopp and attorneys representing the state and Sibbitt worked to weed out any bias. Preliminary questioning resulted in one man being dismissed because he had recently moved from the county. 

Three said they were familiar with the case. That and other responses, such as four people reporting that names of potential witnesses sounded familiar to them, would spawn further questioning after an initial 12 people were called to take seats in the jury box. 

Those questions from Orange County Prosecutor Kelly Minton and Sibbitt’s defense attorney, Scott Callahan, consumed the remainder of the day and narrowed the selection to six, four women and two men to comprise the jury, with one male alternate also selected, according to Roger Moon, staff writer and columnist for the Times-Mail.

The trial was expected to last the remainder of this week and could go into the first day or two of next week.

A Sept. 13 report by Tim Thone in the Paoli News-Republican described discussions and a suppression hearing that preceded the trial.

“Callahan and Kelly met before Lopp during a (Sept. 11) hearing to argue their positions,” Thone reported. “Callahan originally sought to have most of the evidence of the traffic stop between Sibbitt and Indiana State Police Trooper Robbie Lambert stricken. Lambert had initially pulled Sibbitt over for a seatbelt violation and wrote him a ticket for a seatbelt violation as well as two warnings for disregarding a stop sign. 

After returning with the tickets, Lambert attempted to administer a portable breath test to Sibbitt. Callahan attempted to have all of the evidence occurring after the point of the tickets being issued to Sibbitt suppressed. Lopp agreed that Lambert did not have probable cause to administer a portable breath test and struck that evidence, but ruled that when Sibbitt backed his vehicle into Lambert’s patrol car, that created a new incident and the (evidence) starting with that moment was not suppressed.”

Sibbitt told officers he had only been consuming a soft drink and the officer’s perception of slurred speech were based on aspects of his natural voice.

Callahan also said Lambert’s actions were not an isolated error, but that he “has engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional conduct, trampling the rights of Orange County citizens,” Thone also reported.

Sibbitt pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and has said he expects to be exonerated of all of them.

Moon told the News shortly after noon Wednesday both lawyers had presented opening statements, then Lambert was called as the state’s first witness to recount events as he saw them. His questioning was expected to resume after a lunch break, Moon added.

The News will provide updates to this story as it is able to obtain further information.