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Hodgenville police chief’s phone seized

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Seizure result of ongoing case involving mayor, city clerk

By Linda Ireland

In June, Kentucky State Police seized numerous records and ordinance books from Hodgenville City Hall. The investigation culminated in a grand jury indictment of Hodgenville Mayor Terry Cruse and City Clerk MaDonna Hornback, charged on a combined 69 felonies last month – most dealing with alleged misuse of the city’s gas card.

They turned themselves in to the sheriff’s office the morning after their indictments were issued last month.

They’ve declared their intent to plead not guilty at their arraignment Monday .

The case took an unforeseen twist when KSP seized the cellphone of Hodgenville Police Chief Steve Johnson days after Cruse and Hornback’s indictments.

KSP has not released a statement about the latest development, but Johnson provided information to The LaRue County Herald News.

“They think I either tipped (Cruse and Hornback) off (that KSP was searching for them) or helped hide them,” Johnson said. “I did neither.”

The situation appears to have started with court documents that were processed more quickly than usual.

After an indictment is signed by a judge, the paperwork is processed by the circuit clerk’s office and arrest warrants are entered into the electronic warrant system. At that point, any law enforcement officer has access to the warrant and can arrest the accused.

It’s a process that usually takes a day or more to complete, according to Johnson and Ron Mather, the attorney representing Cruse and Hornback.

Mather said his clients understood they were to turn themselves in the following morning Dec. 17.

However, the indictment was processed on Monday, Dec. 16 – just a short time after the grand jury adjourned. Kentucky State Police began looking for Cruse and Hornback that afternoon. Local TV stations showed footage of officers knocking on their doors.

The thought of having to arrest his boss and co-worker was not appealing, said Chief Johnson, but he – or any of his officers – would have done so if they had known their whereabouts.

“I know my duty,” Johnson said.

A KSP detective asked Johnson to tell Cruse “they were looking for him and to go to post or contact post.”

“I was at home Monday night,” Johnson said. “I didn’t see (the mayor). When I heard from him I did what state police asked.”

Cruse and Hornback turned themselves in to LaRue County Sheriff Merle Edlin about 8 a.m. Dec. 17. They were booked into the LaRue County Detention Center and released after they posted bond. Johnson said he went to the detention center when he learned what was going on and assisted Edlin.

Johnson is listed as a witness on the arrest citation.

Last week, Johnson received a visit from a KSP detective, who had a search warrant for Johnson’s phone.

Johnson said his phone records could have been obtained without seizing his phone, which he uses for business and personal use. Other law enforcement agencies, schools, media and emergency services frequently contact him at that number.

Johnson obtained a replacement phone with the same number after speaking with the judge who issued the search warrant.

“I had nothing to hide on my phone,” he said.

He has no idea how long KSP will keep his phone. The detective who obtained the search warrant has not been reached for comment.