crime & courts

Record arrests made during LIttle 500

Crushed beer cans were still scattered across nearby lawns, and porches were still adorned with an occasional brown glass beer bottle.

More than half of the people in line were IU students cited for drinking or drug use. But anyone clutching folded white- or pastel-colored citation papers was welcome. They were the minor offenders of the 235 people Indiana State Excise Police arrested on a total of 285 charges.

“You got a ticket, too,” a girl said, pointing and laughing as she recognized a friend while she joined the line.

Some silently awaited their fate while others swapped stories of how they landed there — blackouts, vomiting, pulled over because a back tail-light was out. Most shivered in hoodies. They all awaited the outcome after a weekend of partying at Little 500, the World’s Greatest College Weekend.

“This is the worst possible way to spend a Sunday.”

“I’d rather go to church early.”

“This isn’t justice.”

Those inside would disagree.

Tom Rhodes,the director of community corrections, arrived to work at 7 a.m. and gestured to the line outside.

“This year’s group has been well-mannered,” Rhodes said. “I’ve been watching, and they seem very respectful and cooperative.”

In the 20 years the courthouse has processed Little 500 weekend drug and alcohol citations, the court appointments haven’t always gone well. Rhodes remembers a few whose throbbing hangovers prompted them to mouth off to the judge. Some have shown up “still under the effects” of whatever substance they were cited for.

As offenders funneled through the courthouse door, two staffers with clipboards held their fates.

If the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office deemed them eligible for pretrial diversion, they headed across the lobby into a PowerPoint presentation explaining the process. Their Little 500 partying would not scar their permanent records.

They had pretrial diversion laid out for them: a $425 fine, three hours of trash pickup that afternoon and a four-hour alcohol class that evening. If they completed everything, they wouldn’t have to set foot in a courtroom.

Questions began.

“The alcohol class, is that 5 to 9?” a blonde-haired guy sitting in the back row asked.
Yes, he was told. It’s normally a seven-hour Saturday class.

“I work tomorrow at 6 in the morning,” he whispered to the person next to him.

Outside the presentation, Monroe County Prosecutor Chris Gaal and his staff oversaw the flow of human traffic in the courthouse. Gaal and 25 of the prosecutor’s office staff pulled an all-nighter to process the citations. He counted down the hours until he could go home and nap.


Those not granted a diversion at the front door of the courthouse trudged up a staircase to face Judge Mary Ellen Diekhoff. These included people with prior convictions, pending cases elsewhere or out-of-towners who had to leave Bloomington before trash pickup and alcohol class ended.

Prosecutors reviewed each file and granted an offer — usually a standard $1 fine plus $166 in court costs — if they pled guilty.

Confused by the justice system and seemingly grasping for any nugget of advice, they turned to the prosecutor.

“Should we not plead guilty?”

“I can’t advise you to plead guilty or not. I’m a prosecutor.”

The judge entered the courtroom arena and summoned each to her bench. All went smoothly until she discovered someone missed a previous court date for public intoxication and illegal alcohol consumption. He had a warrant for his arrest. He claimed he didn’t know about the court date in a case open since September 2011.

“Not goin’ too well, is it,” she asked before banishing him to the other side of the courtroom while she decided what to do with him.

Then the convictions began. She called Griffin Shepherd to her bench.

She asked if he had any prior offenses.

A traffic ticket, Shepherd said. He passed on a double yellow line.

“That’s bad,” Diekhoff said. “Don’t do that. You could get killed.”

What was he doing with his life, she asked.

He works at Kohl’s.

But what about long-term plans, she asked.

He plans to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts degree and apply to law school.

Diekhoff could no longer contain her laughter.

“So this is like the criminal justice system from this side before you go to law school,” she said.

He pled guilty to public intoxication, was ordered 35 hours of community service and was sent off to dream of law school.


Trash pickup began at noon outside Memorial Stadium. The offenders were split into groups and issued oversized tan work gloves and 40-gallon black trash bags. They headed off with probation officers to erase evidence of thousands partying on campus.
They didn’t have to go far. The stadium parking lot was splattered all over with trash. Empty aluminum cans could be heard rolling in the breeze across the pavement.

Probation Officer Leah Snow wore red mittens as she supervised her group cleaning the parking lot. In the past, her group members each filled about three black trash bags. Nothing that exciting, she said, mostly just trash and liquor.

Their contact with the outside world involved a county pickup truck shuttling between groups to collect full garbage bags.

By 3 p.m., the groups finished cleaning campus. They flung their last trash bags into a dump truck at the football stadium and departed for two hours of relaxation before the alcohol and drug education class at the courthouse.

Joggers and power walkers lapped Memorial Stadium, and students waited at a bus stop. Normal life had finally reclaimed IU from the madness of Little Five.

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