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After police shooting of Aaron Bailey, Indy promises change. The community remains skeptical

July 17, 2017  | Indianapolis  Star | Link to Article

Hours after Aaron Bailey was shot and killed by police officers, Indianapolis Metropolitan's white police chief arrived at the historically black Eastern Star Church to face anguished questions he knew he could not answer.

The room was tense with frustration. Another unarmed black man had died at the hands of police, this time of two officers in Indianapolis. And, as in dozens of other cases across the country, the community was left wondering why.

The June 29 shooting is still under investigation. But in a series of gatherings with primarily African-American groups over the past two weeks, IMPD Chief Bryan Roach has promised transparency. He promised change.

In many ways, the actions of Roach and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett represent a departure from the past. Instead of sounding defensive in the wake of a shooting, city officials said Friday they are implementing implicit bias training, changing the department's use-of-force policies and creating a use-of-force review board. And Roach asked the FBI to conduct an independent investigation of the shooting.

 

Many members of the city's black community say they are cautiously hopeful, but they also remain skeptical. They have seen this before in the aftermath of police shootings of black men — the concern and condolences, promises of transparency, talk of systemic change.

Yet in the past, months have gone by and the investigations have been quietly closed after secret grand jury proceedings. With little disclosure, the officers have been cleared.

Many city residents now wonder: Will the promises from the mayor's office and police department pan out into meaningful action? Do the changes announced thus far go far enough?

Or will Bailey's death represent another case that officials quietly close without real change?

"What the police chief has said, what the mayor has said, is somewhat encouraging," said Juard Barnes, a lead organizer for the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCAN). "But at the beginning, it usually sounds encouraging."

 

Waiting game

From 2005 to 2016, Indianapolis police killed 87 people, according to an IndyStar database. Of those, 41 were black men.

 

“This is not the first situation where police officers have done something to unarmed people,” said the Rev. Jeffrey A. Johnson, Sr. of Eastern Star Church.

In many of the cases, grand juries have been used to decide whether to bring charges. Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said grand juries serve an important a purpose.

Because the facts in police shootings are often disputed, Curry uses citizen grand juries to make charging decisions in those cases.

In some, the grand juries may have rightfully cleared the officers  — but some city residents say it's difficult to have faith in the outcome because the proceedings are shrouded in secrecy. 

The evidence presented to a grand jury, who is on the jury and even the demographic makeup of the grand jury are not released to the public, which contributes to that skepticism.

In Indianapolis, no police officer in recent years has been charged with a crime in connection with an officer-involved shooting, though the prosecutor's office has tried officers for other crimes. Grand jury investigations into past use-of-force incidents have often landed on the side of the officers.

Most recently, a grand jury in March cleared IMPD Officer James Perry, who shot and injured Gerald Cole after police said Cole attempted to grab the officer's gun from its holster. Officers also were cleared in the 2015 death of 35-year-old Mack Long, an armed man who fled from police after a traffic stop and, police said, reached for an officer's weapon. The incident was partially captured on a body camera during the police pilot program.

Bailey, 45, was shot and killed by Officers Michal P. Dinnsen and Carlton J. Howard, after a chase that followed a traffic stop on the city's north side at about 2 a.m. June 29. Bailey was unarmed and the only known witness besides the officers was a passenger in Bailey's car, 26-year-old Shiwanda Ward.

Curry is likely to call a grand jury to make a charging decision in the Bailey case, which is expected to take weeks, but some question the method.

"The whole waiting game is something we are familiar with," said Dominic Dorsey, president of the social activist group DON'T SLEEP. "On the other side of it is always a no bill."

Marshawn Wolley, a public affairs lecturer and director of community engagement and strategic initiatives at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, worries that the grand jury will be all white — and nobody can confirm whether that’s true because of the secrecy of the process.

Curry, however, insists the makeup of the jury will reflect the community.

Will the FBI investigation be effective?

Roach's decision to ask for an FBI investigation served as an encouraging sign for some in the black community. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach — citing the close relationship between the city and the FBI's Indianapolis division. Hogsett used to work with the FBI as a federal prosecutor. 

FBI investigations can add a level of transparency for the community, said Robert W. Taylor, a criminology professor at the University of Texas. The FBI, he said, is likely to look for any possible civil rights violations, as well as for any systemic problems within the department.

The FBI is likely to rely on IMPD to conduct interviews and gather evidence, said Taylor, who’s worked as a consultant to police and the Department of Justice. If agents discover something egregious, they’ll gather their own evidence.

The probe could take several weeks, Taylor said, because the FBI probably will wait until the local investigations are finished. If systemic problems are uncovered, he said, a federal judge could seek federal monitoring.

 

In other police shootings of black men across the country, the FBI has examined whether police officers should face charges. In some cases, the agency didn't find civil rights violations, but did identify systemic problems within the police departments in Chicago, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

The last time the feds were involved in an IMPD use-of-force investigation was 2010. 

Images of 15-year-old Brandon Johnson's swollen, bloody face after his arrest in Indianapolis thrust IMPD into a harsh national spotlight and led to a public investigation by the Department of Justice. 

That federal probe yielded no charges, and the officers involved kept their jobs — including one accused of kneeing a teenager in the head while others held him down. 

Wolley said best practices call for a special prosecutor, in addition to an outside law enforcement agency such as the FBI.

Curry, though, brushed off such criticism, pointing to 62 prosecutions of police officers over the past six years. That list includes David “Matt” Carrico, a former Marion County Sheriff’s deputy who was convicted of attacking a handcuffed inmate at the Arrestee Processing Center in 2012. Curry prosecuted that case himself.

"I get a little frustrated at the suggestion that (IMPD) can’t be objective and we can't be objective," Curry said. "We've got police officers in DOC. We've put police officers in prison for serious crimes."

'Is it safe?'

After the Bailey shooting, city officials did promise to make systemic changes, regardless of what the criminal investigations find. Hogsett on Friday announced the city will implement a "first of its kind" implicit bias training that will incorporate police and community members.

In a statement, the Fraternal Order of Police of Indianapolis said officers support measures to improve relationships between citizens and the police, and have been working on it for a long time.

"Issues of mutual trust and respect between officers and the public are paramount to our collective membership," the FOP said in the statement. 

Johnson, of Eastern Star Church, said black people have always had to talk to their children about how to interact with police, so police need to be taught how to interact with his community, too.

“I shouldn’t have to train someone to not shoot me because I’m black and reaching in the glove box,” he said.

And the community meetings haven't hurt matters. A meeting about a week after Bailey's death underscored the wide swath of reactions to the shooting. 

"It was mixed emotions on that particular day," said Horatio Luster, a justice advocate who attended the meeting. "People were somewhat full of frustration. Some were angry."

And it might have helped a little bit, Luster said. People vented. They were heard. 

“What’s been impressive is they’ve been responsive, they’ve tried to be as transparent as they could, and they’re trying to stay ahead of the process,” said Wolley.

Ashley Thomas, a volunteer with IndyCAN, said she appreciated that leadership weren't acting defensive, but instead were listening and responding. But she remains cautious. Fear and unease lingers.

And some question whether change is possible until the department adopts body cams and other objective evidence-gathering devices, narrowing the room for dispute when a shooting occurs.

Body cameras  and video

In the high-profile shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, a witness video showed Scott running away as police officer Michael Slager shot him in the back. 

Slager faced a murder charge as well as a federal civil rights violation in that case. Slager pleaded guilty in May to the federal civil rights violation, but a jury deadlocked on his murder charge.

In other cases, body cams have proven police officers acted in accordance with the law.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Sheila Suess Kennedy, an expert in civil liberties and civil rights law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.

In Bailey's case, there is no video, which for some leaves room for doubt about the officers' actions and whether they could even be held accountable if they acted inappropriately.

“In court if it is one person's word against another and one of those people is a police officer, you almost always will find the court or jury believing the police officer," Kennedy said. 

Some question why IMPD still has not outfitted its officers and patrol cars with cameras. 

 

City officials cited high data storage costs, among other issues, when they ended a test program in 2015 that equipped some IMPD officers with body cameras. Hogsett on Friday said he did not yet know if the city would include funding for body cameras in the 2018 budget.

"It would be great to have body cams and to have any kind of technological availability that answers a lot of these questions for us," Hogsett told IndyStar.

But he said it's not a budget priority, adding that the priority is hiring more officers. 

Robert B. Turner, an attorney and former public safety director under former Mayor Bart Peterson, said police officers "absolutely need body cameras," adding that the city can find the money if it chooses.

“Sometimes the city cares more about money than they care about the police and public safety,” Turner said. “They will spend millions of dollars for an athletic arena, but there’s nothing more important than public safety.”

People are watching the city to see if officials follow through. 

"Words are so eloquent, but what I am looking for are actions," said Thomas, the IndyCAN volunteer. "The outcome is what we're looking for."