By Kristy Deer, Greenfield Daily Reporter
HANCOCK COUNTY — Law enforcement had at most 15 seconds of interaction with Jeffrey S. Stearns before Stearns walked into the back area of his work facility, shut an office door and took his own life, police say.
A team of three deputies and two investigators from the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department were attempting to serve a felony warrant on Stearns, 39, when the incident took place at his business off County Road 500S at about 1:30 p.m. Friday, July 2. Before deputies could intervene, Stearns, the president of J.S. Concrete, shot himself with a .45-caliber handgun, said Capt. Robert Harris, public information officer for the sheriff’s department.
Stearns had been accused of raping and furnishing alcohol to a minor, a young woman who was visiting the Stearns home in January, according to a probable cause affidavit. A warrant for his arrest was issued Friday morning by Magistrate Cody Coombs in Hancock County Circuit Court.
Stearns had his business set up in a pole barn behind his home, and when deputies arrived to serve the warrant, Stearns was inside the business.
“When officials first got there, he was in the barn in a reception area talking with the officers very briefly,” Harris said. “A few words were exchanged before he retreated to the back office and shut the door.”
The officers backed out of the barn and remained outside, Harris said. A few moments later, they heard a single gunshot from inside the barn.
“Our detectives thought he would be cooperative and comply,” Harris said. “We didn’t expect any problems.”
The sheriff’s department assigned the three deputies to serve the warrant because of the felony status on the warrant, just to be safe, Harris noted.
Members of the Hancock County Joint Tactical Team were then called to the scene. At approximately 2:45 p.m., officers entered the building and found Stearns, who had suffered a gunshot wound. No one else was in the barn at the time of the incident.
“It’s unfortunate,” Harris said. “If he didn’t do it, I wish he would have let the justice system take its course.”
That view was shared by prosecutor Brent Eaton, whose office had charged Stearns with a Level 3 felony county of rape; two Class B misdemeanors for serving alcohol to a minor and a Class C infraction of serving alcohol to a minor.
“You don’t ever want to see what happened, happen,” Eaton said. “We follow the facts and the law and have to make a decision on charges on every single case, and we did.”
Representatives from the church Stearns attended told investigators Stearns was an active member and was considering becoming a part-time pastor, Harris said.
According to the affidavit, the victim was at Stearns’ home on the night of Jan. 16 when she, Stearns and others in the house had several alcoholic drinks. The young woman told officials she had consumed two shots of vodka, a mixed drink, two other drinks and four to five bourbon shots, all provided by Stearns.
Stearns then helped the victim, who by then was intoxicated, upstairs into a bedroom where the unwanted contact occurred, the affidavit said. The victim told investigators she felt paralyzed by fear and was unable to speak or move to stop the assault, according to the affidavit.
After getting sick multiple times throughout the night, the victim called her boyfriend the next morning and told him what had happened, the affidavit said. The boyfriend encouraged the victim to contact police, the affidavit said. She contacted authorities later that day.