Indiana shootings strain relationship between police, blacks
By COREY WILLIAMS and RICK CALLAHAN Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indianapolis police Chief Randal Taylor solemnly promised thoroughness and transparency as his department investigates the fatal shootings of two black men in the city by officers.
Taylor, an African American and longtime member of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, also made a plea to the community as he faced the first major crisis since becoming chief less than five months ago: Give his office time and he’ll address any mistakes made, but jumping to conclusions won’t help.
Given the department’s contentious history with black residents and numerous police shootings of blacks around the U.S. captured on video in recent years, Taylor’s race and pledge may not be enough.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said Friday that he asked the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI to “actively monitor” the investigations into the shootings. Also, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said he was asking a court to appoint an independent prosecutor to handle the investigation into the shooting of Dreasjon Reed, because Taylor is a witness in the case.
Hogsett said outside monitoring is needed “to provide community confidence in the outcome of those processes.”
Regardless of how the investigations in the shootings of Reed, 21, and McHale Rose, 19, play out, Taylor and the police force have serious work ahead to build trust with the black community and the broader community, according to Vanita Gupta, CEO of the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and a former Justice Department official in the Obama administration.
“There is a deeper history of lack of trust or faith in the community that there will be accountability,” Gupta said.
Indianapolis police did not respond to questions Friday about the department’s diversity, but a 2018 report by The Indianapolis Star said blacks comprise 28% of the city’s population but only about 16% of the police force.
The shootings happened within eight hours of each other. Events surrounding Reed’s shooting Wednesday evening, including car and foot chases, were livestreamed on Facebook, and protests began even before the shooting early Thursday of Rose, who police say may have been trying to ambush officers. Police say both men were armed and shot at police. Between the shootings, an officer driving to work fatally struck a pregnant woman, who was white.
Police say they began pursuing Reed after officers, including Taylor, saw someone driving recklessly on an interstate. After the shooting, the situation was made more tenuous because a detective was heard on the livestream saying: “I think it’s going to be a closed casket, homie,” an apparent reference to a closed-casket funeral.
Taylor called the comment “unacceptable” and said the detective would face disciplinary action.
“I hope you understand that I’m one that is willing to acknowledge that if we made mistakes here, we will address them,” Taylor said during a news conference. “But let the investigation run its course before we jump to conclusions — either on our side or on the community’s side.”
The shootings come about two years after the city agreed to pay $650,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit involving another black man who was shot by police after crashing his car into a tree following a 2017 police chase. Officers said Aaron Bailey, 45, ignored commands to show his hands and they believed he was looking for a gun when he reached into his car’s center console. No gun was found in Bailey’s car.
A special prosecutor declined to file charges against the officers and a civilian board cleared both of wrongdoing.
Bailey’s daughter was among those who attended a downtown rally Thursday where protesters called for transparency and accountability as this week’s shootings are investigated. Taylor himself came and talked to protesters, including some of Reed’s relatives.
Indianapolis NAACP chapter President Chrystal Ratcliffe said Friday that the organization was willing to give Taylor the benefit of the doubt after having worked with him when Taylor was IMPD’s second in command before he took the department’s top job at the end of last year.
“We know he is a man of his word to work very diligently to get the answers that we need and be very transparent,” Ratcliffe said. “I’m very confident that Chief Taylor will do what he can to make sure that this is done in a speedy way and the correct way.”
However, the fact that Taylor is African American doesn’t give him or any other black law enforcement leader a pass in accountability to the black community, Gupta said.
“What is important here is that the investigation be investigated fairly,” she said. “Indianapolis has had longstanding issues between law enforcement and the black community because of a series of issues that have really frayed that trust.”
Detroit police Chief James Craig, who took over his department toward the end of more than a decade of federal oversight due to excessive force and jail lockups, said he found Taylor’s decision to meet with Reed’s family and protesters at the site of his shooting “powerful.”
“To go to the parents or the family … takes a lot of courage,” Craig said Friday. “They lost their son. The thing you can do is reassure them you are going to make sure the investigation is thorough and unbiased. That goes a long way.”