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ACLU challenges Indiana law allowing police to move people back 25 feet

A crime scene. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging Indiana’s encroaching-on-an-investigation law.

It gives police officers the right to tell citizens to move back 25 feet or risk jail time and a criminal record. The ACLU says the law gives police unbridled discretion.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a citizen journalist in South Bend. The lawsuit claims police told him to move back 25 feet during an investigation and had another officer come and push them back another 25 feet.

The ACLU argues the wording of the law makes it so that essentially 10 officers could tell you to move back 25 feet over and over again.

Ken Falk, legal director of ACLU of Indiana, said police could say, “I’m telling you this is my scene. This is my scene. Go back 25 feet.”

That is part of how the scene played out on July 20 as South Bend authorities investigated a scene. The citizen journalist who operates the page Freedom 2 Film filmed the exchange as police asked him to move back 25 feet.

“The law is completely uncertain as to what the 25-feet barrier means. Obviously, they could have a situation of 10 different police officers pushing you back 250 feet,” Falk said.

He says this exchange shines a light on the problems with House Enrolled Act 1186. Now the ACLU has filed a lawsuit and asked for a preliminary injunction to keep the encroachment law that went into effect July 1 from remaining in effect.

Falk is concerned the law will be used to deny First Amendment rights and freedom of the press.

In a March report from News 8, the bill author, Rep. Wendy McNamara, says she wrote the bill in response to officers increasingly having to simultaneously work a crime scene and deal with bystander interference.

The Republican from Mount Vernon said, “This is not a law that says, If the police officer reasonably believes that he or she is being interfered with. It just allows a blanket push back.”

Falk says, as the law is written now, it could potentially prevent people from filming police interactions similar to George Floyd’s 2020 death in Minneapolis, and, it’s similar to an Indianapolis case where IMPD officers were filmed hitting a women during the 2020 protests.

“Law enforcement has a difficult job and in no way do we want to make it more difficult. But if you’re going to have a law that requires people to push back, there has to be a reason,” Falk said.

News 8 reached out to McNamara’s office for comment and was told she’d like to pass on the request.