Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Newsmaker Series: Who is Erin Gardner?

Erin Gardner has made quite a stir in the community, and judging from the hundreds of comments circulating throughout the Facebook community it's obvious that she is fast becoming a folk hero of sorts to those who don't appreciate strong armed police tactics.

There appears to be a lot of pent up anger out there about police brutality and the double standards that have been applied when officers go rogue or make mistakes.

People make mistakes, too, and Erin will be the first to say that she is far from perfect.  On the other hand, it appears from comments made by defenders of the police action in this case that she has been unfairly stereotyped because of past experiences with the legal system.  She believes that may have played a role in the way she has been treated by some police officers.

Erin's first experience with the police several years ago has been brought up by her detractors. It's easy to judge a book by its cover, but there is usually always more in the story itself.

Erin said she had just come home from a heart-wrenching funeral.  She had been crying and was  offered a shot of alcohol as a means to calm her nerves.  She drank the alcohol, but was by no means intoxicated.  A short while later she left the house and began walking to a friend's house, which was two blocks away.

Before she could get there she was stopped by the police and questioned.
"He wanted to know who I was, where I was going, and where I came from," said Erin.  "I answered all of his questions in spite of my grief and through my tears."
Erin said he demanded that she submit to a breathalyzer.  She told him she wasn't doing anything wrong and that she wasn't inclined to submit to the demand.  She was subsequently arrested and charged with public intoxication.  Erin took what she thought was the easy way out at the time and didn't fight the misdemeanor charge.

In retrospect, she realizes that it may have been a mistake since it has been used to unfairly stereotype her as a criminal with a "record."

Because of what happened to Erin on that day several years ago, she did not want to get out of the vehicle last May as she did not wish to risk another bogus public intoxication charge.  She knew she had done nothing wrong in either instance.
If Erin were walking home today in the same situation she would not have been charged, because in 2012 public intoxication laws were drastically loosened to address the overzealous actions of police officers like the one who took Erin to jail even though she was doing nothing wrong and harming no one. 
The impact that these two incidents have had on Erin is hard to measure.  Living in fear and being afraid to go out in the community is the psychological result of dealing with overzealous police officers.  Perhaps some of these officers don't realize that their actions affect people in ways that cause lifelong harm. Or maybe those who exhibit narcissistic behavior  simply don't care.

The damage that it causes is real.  It destroys lives.  It harms the community.  Erin and others want it to stop, which is why she has taken the risk to place herself in the public spotlight where there are plenty of critics and legal sharks.  She has been encouraged by the outpouring of support, though, and believes the cause is worthy of the financial and emotional cost in fighting a corrupt legal system in hopes of preventing this from happening to others.

How many people would go to such lengths to pursue justice for a bogus seat belt violation?  Not many, but Erin Gardner is no ordinary person, which is why many people are asking, "Who is Erin Gardner?"  It was a question this writer was curious about, so I sat down with Erin and asked about her life.  She was gracious enough to answer my questions.

This writer determined that there was certainly something special about Erin shortly after meeting with her for the first time at the Java Roaster in downtown Lafayette, one of Erin's favorite hang-outs, and one of the few places she feels safe after what happened to her last May.

Erin with Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Watson
Erin doesn't go out as much these days, however.  After being ripped from the back seat of her friend's car and slammed to the ground by LPD Officer Jeffrey Webb, she is fearful and has lost faith in those whose job it is to serve and protect.  She suffers from agoraphobia as a result, but is determined to overcome the obstacle.

Erin's ecclectic lifestyle is a testament to the fact that there is nothing ordinary about this capable young woman.  Whether she's participating in a roller derby, studying nuclear medicine, or rubbing elbows with famous people like Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Watson, the man who unlocked DNA mysteries, she remains grounded due to her religious and work ethics.

Erin was raised Catholic; however, she has also attended Evangelical churches.  Although she claims to still be connected to her Christian roots, she eventually turned to Buddhism for religious fulfillment.

Although Erin has accomplished a great deal in 34 years of life, it is her role as a mother that she identifies with the most and receives the greatest joy from.  Erin is the mother of a ten-year-old son.  She is her son's biggest fan and vice versa. 

Erin, a 1997 graduate of Harrison High School, was a member of the National Honor Society.  She was nominated by teachers for the prestigious Continental Math League of which she became a member after receiving high scores in advanced math.

Erin has attended six universities and has earned degrees in sociology and journalism from Penn State.  She is currently enrolled in IUPUI where she is studying Nuclear Medicine.  Erin has consistently made the Dean's List in all of her educational pursuits. 

Erin has held several jobs in her relatively short lifetime, including Americorps and the Salvation Army.

More recently, she owned and operated The Phoenix restaurant in Davenport, Iowa and was featured in a regional magazine for her successes there.  After returning to the Lafayette area for personal reasons a couple of years ago, she has provided consulting services for restaurants, flipped six houses while doing much of the work herself, and she makes a living in Numismatics, or metal trading.

Erin always finds time for volunteering.  She has organized autism walks, opened her home to the less fortunate, invested money for the education of people with great ability but little resources, and counseled high school students in conflict resolution through Americorps in Indianapolis.

"I invest in people," commented Erin, who was quite shy about her philanthropical endeavors."

One of those endeavors was visibly noticeable.  Erin recently cut her long hair as a donation to the Locks of Love charity to be used for cancer patients.

Erin briefly talked about her parents and the impact they had on her life.  Divorced when she was a young child, Erin's mother, Joann Gardner, was forced to make a living for four children, so she and a friend launched the Klein-Braut House in Brookston, Indiana.  Erin remembers working alongside her mother in the family business and credits the experience for the strong work ethic she developed.

Prior to that Joann managed the Farmer's State Bank in Brookston for the Garrotts, who were dear friends of Erin's family.

Tragically, Erin's mother died in a car wreck about ten years ago, which has left a huge void in her life.

Erin's father has also been well-known to the community.  Although he currently lives in the Geist area, he started his career at WLFI-TV18 as a camera man.  Erin recalls growing up in the WLFI studios as she would occasionally accompany her father to work.

Her dad, Ken Gardner, is now known worldwide for negotiating contracts with major television networks for satellite coverage of sporting events such as the World Cup, Olympics, and the Kentucky Derby, just to name a few.  Ken was also one of the founders of Speed TV and IMS productions.  Locally, he was a founder for WLFI Remote Operations.

It was easy for Erin to get off track and talk about her parents' accomplishments rather than her own.  She tries to live a quiet life while pursuing her goals.  One of those goals is to help others find a cure for cancer, which is why she entered into the field of Nuclear Medicine.

Erin Gardner deserves an apology from the officers who accosted her.  She deserves a fair trial.  She deserves to be left alone in peace.  She deserves justice. 


  1. Writer of this site... How does one get info to you? Situation seriously needs to be exposed

  2. You can reach us at annafriend@gmail.com

  3. The cops that accosted Erin should go to prison! Give them mean bunkmates!
    Erin deserves justice. Led Meade's ego won't let it happen . Officer Webb cares not about the law. He's a bully. I encountered him once and I was overly frisked...for nothing.
    I hope that Erin files a civil suit against LPD and the individual cops. I don't respect police anymore. We live in a corrupt county.
    Count the drunk cops leaving the FOP and then drive. I've been there and have seen it!
    Live Free or Die! Thomas R. Nisen