Chesterton Tribune



Man accused of VU hostage hoax cleared; charges dropped

Back To Front Page



The Chesterton man accused of perpetrating a hostage hoax at Valparaiso University a year ago--in an incident which prompted a massive law-enforcement response--has been exonerated.

Both charges filed against Michael Clemens, 21--intimidation and false informing--have been dismissed by the Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and he has returned to class at VU, his attorney, Gary Germann, told the Chesterton Tribune today.

Clemens was taken into custody several hours after a call was made at 7:04 p.m. April 21, 2015, to the Valparaiso Police station by a man saying that he’d taken hostages in VU’s Christopher Center and had access to an explosive. By 10 p.m. the Porter County Sheriff’s Police SWAT Team had cleared the Christopher Center and determined the call to be a hoax.

Meanwhile, a Porter Police officer on duty at the time--and a cousin of Clemens--overhearing scanner traffic, made note of the fact that the caller had apparently identified himself as a “Michael Commons,” close enough to his own cousin’s name to give him pause. That officer asked to listen to a tape of the call and then expressed his confidence that the caller and his cousin were the same person.

Clemens was subsequently located on campus, interviewed, and charged.

Three days after the incident, however, on April 24, Clemens was at home in Chesterton playing Scrabble in his basement with friends when Chesterton Police officers responded to his residence, after a 911 call was made by a man identifying himself as Michael and saying that “he was feeling suicidal and wanted to hurt his mom and dad.” The address the caller gave was Clemens’ own.

The purportedly suicidal caller was still on the line with the dispatcher, however, as CPD officers made physical contact with Clemens, who was not on the phone or anywhere near one at the time.

That second call--in which the supposed hoaxer was himself hoaxed--was key to exonerating Clemens, Germann told the Tribune. “It was one of the most telling things in this case,” he said, and not simply because Clemens--standing there as he was, talking to police officers, while the hoaxer was still talking to the dispatcher--couldn’t have made it.

It was most telling, Germann said, because a voice recognition specialist has confirmed that the person who made that second hoax call to Clemens’ home was the same person who made the first hoax call to the VPD station.

Of the Porter Police officer’s identification of his cousin as the caller, Germann said this: “Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Ear-witness is even more so.”

Germann noted, though, that had the hoaxer given some other name on the evening of April 21--any other name at all, not sounding like Michael Clemens’--investigators would have had no reason at all to suspect his client of involvement in the hoax.

The source of those two calls remains under investigation, Germann said.

Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel, for his part, released the following statement to the Tribune this morning: “The Porter County Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the pending charges against Michael Clemens in connection with the April 2015 emergency call alleged to have been made from Valparaiso University. While information initially obtained during the investigation pointed to Michael Clemens’ involvement, subsequent investigation has led to the determination that Clemens should not face intimidation charges at this time. Because the matter is still being actively investigated, no further information can be provided.”

“Sometimes it takes a little while for things like this to work their way through the system, for prosecutors to accept they’ve mistakenly charged someone who is innocent,” Germann said. “Give the prosecutor credit for taking a good look at it and making the decision they did. Michael’s family is thrilled.”

“Valparaiso University has been very gracious,” Germann added. “They’ve lifted Michael’s suspension so he could come back right away to finish the classes he started in the spring last year.”

Clemens, studying electrical engineering, plans to take summer courses as well, to get back on track. “Michael’s just a great kid,” Germann said. “He loves school and for him to return to school is a great victory.”




Posted 4/8/2016




Search This Site:

Custom Search