Abdul: He was being investigated for criminal recklessness

Dateline: Mon 17 Dec 2007

A copy of the probable cause affidavit for a search warrant issued Nov. 16, 2007, lays out the case that was being built by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department in their investigation of popular radio WXNT-AM talk show host Abdul Hakim Shabazz.

According to the affidavit written by Capt. Chris Boomershine of IMPD's investigations division, Shabazz was a target of a criminal recklessness charge. The police probe began when the now-defunct blog IndyUndercover outed a woman who had served as a confidential informant for police trying to solve nine fires in the city from May 23 to June 17.

On June 9 IndyUndercover -- under the anonymous "Joe Friday" and with an agenda of being pro-cop -- wrote about those arsons, naming the names of several suspects already identified by police. But the IndyUndercover blog also published the name of a confidential police informant. (!)

Here is what IndyUndercover printed, according to the affidavit:

"Then we get another confession from REDACTED who was arrested for arson in 2004. She told detectives (arson suspect Robert) Green was also responsible for five fires and Dale Gray was responsible for two fires..."

IndyUndercover then issued this call to arms: "Someone should haul these guys into court and make them all testify against each other before someone is killed."

The affidavit continues, in Boomershine's words, "Following the leak of this information, REDACTED, who was eight months pregnant at the time and a former member of the 2-1 Fatal Gang, feared for her safety and had to relocate where she resided."

The string of arsons -- a terrifying time in Indy for the neighborhoods affected, firefighters and police -- were being investigated, according to the affidavit, by IMPD fire investigators Brian Durham and Sherron Franklin. Franklin is also a member of the City-County Council.

The police obviously took the IndyUndercover post outing their informant very seriously.

Writes Boomershine: "I was directed to investigate the possible leak of sensitive and confidential information provided by public safety personnel to the blog."

An almost six-month investigation followed, in which police, possibly with the aid of federal officials, began peeling back the identity of IndyUndercover through various e-mail addresses and Internet providers: Yahoo, Google, EOS and finally Bright House.

The trail ultimately led to Abdul Shabazz, according to the affidavit, which also lists Shabazz' Downtown address and phone number. Boomershine identifies Shabazz in the warrant as the IndyUndercover blog's moderator.

Judge David Altice of Marion Superior Court Criminal Division signed the search warrant. Prior to that, throughout August, Grand Jury subpoenas were issued to Google, Yahoo, etc., in the painstaking search to trace the blog back and discover who was running/writing on it.

According to the affidavit, police were prepared to obtain evidence from 1: The residence of Shabazz and 2. His vehicle. They were specifically looking for "any and all computer hard drives, data storage devices" etc. as well as "any indication of criminal activity."

The warrant was signed at 2:21 p.m. Nov. 16.

By 4 p.m. or so, officers were outside Shabazz' Downtown apartment. But before they could serve the warrant, they received a phone call from someone high up in the city, and they were told to "stand down."

Shabazz himself later received a phone call from someone presumably high up in the city, warning him, "Dude, you don't know how close you came."

Based on how few people knew about this investigation, the warning call had to have come from the top, possibly in the office of Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.

By 8 p.m. or so, Shabazz wrote about nearly being served with a search warrant on his blog Indiana Barrister, where he's public about his identity. He claimed he was being investigated because he was looking into a possible child sex-abuse charge regarding a prominent local Democrat. Nothing has ever come of that.

Shabazz, whose talk show has a conservative bent, often features Republicans as guests but it is not exclusively a GOP format. IndyUndercover, however, made no secret of its disdain for D's, referring to them as "Democraps" and going after various high officials with catchy, insulting names: Sheriff Frank Anderson was "Bling Bling," etc.

After Shabazz wrote on Barrister about his troubles, IndyUndercover went to bat for its dear friend in the media, Abdul Shabazz, lamenting that he was the unfair target of a warrant. The IndyUndercover blog, which was supposedly pro-cop and allegedly written by police under the name Joe Friday, earlier had said that it was thinking of shutting down after the election of Greg Ballard as mayor, having accomplished its mission. But with Abdul in hot water, the blog was rethinking that decision, it reported.

Then, IndyUndercover vanished.

Shabazz has acknowledged that he started IndyUndercover and has said that he and the blog "exchanged information." He has yet to acknowledge that he was IndyUndercover, but the warrant, had it been served, I believe, would have taken care of that. And denial is a powerful drug.

Was the search warrant legal? Did the person who called the warrant off commit an obstruction of justice?

Was a confidential informant's life put in danger by a careless blog? That seems very possible and likely.

These are all important questions for the law community, for journalism and for this community at large.

One thing I am certain of: You can't talk about the news, or write about it, and be part of it. You can't be a responsible reporter and be a player.

I emailed Shabazz last week, with yet another piece of information I had obtained linking him to IndyUndercover. He again deflected that, saying he'd already acknowledged that he exchanged info with IndyU. "I'm not trying to tell a veteran journalist how to do her job," he wrote. Then he challenged me to find out why a search warrant had been issued with his name on it.

So this is what I've found out. Draw your own conclusions.

Thanks to Russ McQuaid at Fox, who helped point me re: this story. He was the first journalist to obtain and talk about the search warrant and its merits. Ditto fellow bloggers Gary Welsh at Advance Indiana, who has stayed on point, and St. Allio's Way for providing good play-by-play as the story continues to unfold.

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