FOP asks Valpo Council President Robert Cotton to step aside over online comment about fatal shooting

The Valparaiso chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police is asking Valparaiso City Council President Robert Cotton to step aside from that leadership role because of a comment he made on his Facebook page in the aftermath of a fatal police-involved shooting on April 25.

Cotton, D-2nd, said the comment was a reflection of the image he had of the shooting from an eye-witness account and he in no way meant to impugn the police.

“I’d like to express my regret that the comment was not written well enough to avoid gross misinterpretation of an indelible image conjured in my mind directly from an eyewitness statement reported in a local newspaper,” Cotton said Friday. “In no way did I intend for this to be taken as criticism of our professional and highly skilled police, and my record of support is well documented.”

The Facebook comment, which Cotton confirmed he made and has since been removed from his personal page, was in the days after the shooting death of Caden Mura, 20, of Valparaiso, who police have said displayed a handgun at a Valparaiso park before shooting at police.

Three Valparaiso Police officers and two from the Porter County Sheriff’s Office are on paid administrative leave while the Indiana State Police’s Lowell post investigates the shooting.

Cotton’s comment was in a thread about the shooting, as others discussed why officers didn’t wound Mura to stop him and someone said that wounding a suspect doesn’t stop the threat they pose.

“… yes, I get that, but can’t shake the image in my mind of recklessly inaccurate gunshots being fired by a panicked boy/young man while he is running away from gunshots being fired from the guns of a team of skilled marksmen, that were targeting him,” Cotton said in his comment.

In a letter posted to the FOP’s Facebook page Thursday and also sent to Cotton, members said they were “expressing our deepest concern and disappointment” regarding Cotton’s statement.

“Your remarks were not only inflammatory but also grossly inaccurate, further exacerbating an already sensitive situation,” said the letter, signed by FOP President Benjamin Teufel, Vice President Joseph Cowser, Treasurer James Bilder and Secretary Michelle Kodicek.

Teufel said he wrote the letter with the board and the membership approved it before it was sent out Thursday.

The letter requests that Cotton retract the statement and issue a public apology to the community and those impacted by the shooting, including FOP members.

“You also chose to further a false narrative which not only painted our members in a bad light, but the City of Valparaiso in general,” the letter states. “As such, we ask that you step down as president of the Valparaiso City Council. We hope that you will take this opportunity to build bridges rather than erect barriers that divide us further.”

Teufel said a screenshot of Cotton’s comment was shared with the FOP’s members, which include Valparaiso officers and one from Valparaiso University.

“Officers out there doing their jobs need the support not only of the FOP but of the elected officials of the city,” Teufel said, adding that in general, the FOP and its members “have received nothing but the backing and support of the community, for the majority.”

Mayor Jon Costas declined to comment on the FOP’s request because has been out of town and not had the chance to discuss the matter with Cotton or the FOP, but he plans on meeting with them individually to talk things over.

Police Chief Andrew McIntyre said in a statement to the Post-Tribune that he supported his officers.

“I remain grateful of the quick and heroic efforts of the first responders to the events that transpired on April 25, 2024, as their actions prevented additional threat of harm in our community,” McIntyre said. “I am proud of the officers as their actions were courageous and am thankful for the outpouring of support from our community.”

Cotton said he has repeatedly supported the city’s police officers and firefighters in his actions on the city council, and fought for them to get their share of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Anybody who knows me knows that directly,” he said.

As the controversy took shape on social media Thursday, Mura’s mother, Laurie Carmichael, shared a family statement to the community in a public Facebook post.

She said the family is “deeply saddened” by the devastating actions carried out by her son, which caused a life-threatening crisis in the community, creating fear and sending police officers into “perilous action.”

“As his mother amid mourning the heavy loss of my son, who was loved dearly, I cannot ignore the mass chaos that was directly a result of the actions of my child,” she wrote. “I cannot express deeply enough my sincere, heartbreaking empathy and sorrow for the anguish and trauma suffered by our law enforcement departments and first responders, and the community as a whole in their experience of it all. I pray full healing on each and every one of you.”

Cotton was elected to a third term on the city council in November and is the first Black person to be elected to the council. He was selected as its president in January when Democrats overtook Republicans with a 5-2 split after last year’s general election.

An online petition created Thursday calls for Cotton to resign from the city council, which Cotton called “politics, what they couldn’t do at the ballot box.”

Teufel declined to comment on the petition.