INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A civilian police merit board voted 5-2 Thursday night to let the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Aaron Bailey keep their jobs.
Bailey was shot and killed June 29 after driving away from a traffic stop and crashing his car.
The officers involved testified before the board in the City-County Building and said Bailey refused to listen to commands to put his hands up. They said they thought Bailey was reaching for a gun and turning around to use it when they shot him. Bailey was later found to be unarmed.
Three days of testimony came from training experts, the officers at the scene that night and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department leadership.
IMPD Chief Bryan Roach said the officers did not follow their training and he recommended they be fired. That decision was ultimately in the hands of the merit board, though, and a majority of its members disagreed with him.
“It was just a difference of opinion of whether those policies were met or not,” Roach said. “It is disappointing obviously. I believe one way and the board chose another, but I’ve been talking since Day One about the process. We let the process go through and that is what we do. We follow the process and do the best we can and this is a result of that process.”
Several of Bailey’s family members were in the courtroom when the vote happened. They were seen crying while leaving the room.
“My heart is broke. I’m upset. I’m clearly mad,” said Erica Bailey, Aaron Bailey’s daughter. “For them just to sit there and feel like that is OK. Just let two officers that shot an unarmed man with his back turned … have their jobs…. They are putting everybody in danger. It is just ridiculous to me.”
Bailey’s daughter noted there is still a pending civil lawsuit in relation to this case and she will be there for that every step of the way.
For the officers, their attorney said he was happy with the board’s decision.
“I very much appreciate the hard work of the merit board in deciding that they were going to rule on the facts, not rule on the politics … but make a decision on the facts, and we think the facts were overwhelming. Although this shooting was tragic in its outcome, it was a legal, terrible shooting, but it was justified because they reasonably believed they were going to be fired upon,” said attorney John Kautzman while standing next to Rick Snyder, the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police No. 86 president.
Snyder had harsh words about the state of the police department and IMPD leadership.
“We unfortunately have some executive leaders who — I can’t believe I’m saying this — have destroyed a police department and we are left to pick up the pieces…. What I would say is that there are a lot of executives in this department that have a lot of soul searching to do,” Snyder said. “My fear is that rather than managing expectations of the public and this police department, my fear is that that the police chief allowed the political expectations of a few to manage him and that is unacceptable as a local leader of a police department.”
The officers involved in the shooting will be allowed to go back to work. The chief said he will meet with them and determine the best role for them moving forward.
Hours after the decision, a couple dozen people gathered by City Market, just across the street from the City-County Building. They were praying in a circle. Many of them said they were saddened and disheartened by the decision.
“More specifically to the African-American community, that no responsibility and no accountability seems to be taken after a man is shot unarmed in the back, even on the recommendation of our chief of police,” said John Girton Jr., pastor at Christ Missionary Baptist Church.
Girton said he’s concerned this ruling could cause a rift between the community and the police department because of a fear that authorities will not be held accountable for their actions.
Girton also said he feels less safe in Indianapolis after the ruling and said it would be difficult to explain the merit board’s decision to two of his children, one in middle school and another in high school.
While the focus of the vigil was on prayer, Girton said the next step will be coming together as a community to talk about the merit board process and about implicit bias.
Mayor Joe Hogsett:
“Today’s decision by the Civilian Police Merit Board to overturn the recommended termination of two officers is a disappointing and frustrating reminder that even as we continue our efforts to reform our criminal justice system, much work remains to be done.
“I have complete faith in the judgment and the leadership of IMPD Chief Bryan Roach, whose experience over three decades in the police department has more than prepared him to make difficult decisions as it relates to the discipline and termination of officers.
“The fact that Chief Roach’s experienced, well-reasoned decision to terminate two officers has been overturned by the votes of five individuals highlights a Merit Board system that must be changed if we are to continue building bridges of trust between our brave police officers and the communities they proudly serve.
“In the coming days, I will be engaging with community and public safety leaders to assess what should be considered to help restore faith in the police discipline process
“For our community as a whole, I simply ask that even as today’s decision creates understandable sadness and frustration, it is only through unity, not division, that we can continue to move our city forward. Let us use this moment as an opportunity to come together and resolve that we will honor those affected by this tragedy through a commitment to peaceful change.”
Vop Osili, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council:
“I’m saddened and troubled tonight by the decision of the Civilian Police Merit Board.
“I recognize that Indianapolis has not been immune to the national conversation on minority and police relations and the fear that there are two systems of justice, and I’m concerned today’s events deepen the division and distrust in our city that so many of us are working every day to narrow.
“But we cannot let this moment undo the progress we are making in this community. We must continue our work with focus and resolve. I’m committed to continuing to work with the Mayor, our public safety leaders, my fellow Council members and the resolute advocates throughout Indianapolis who are demanding a criminal justice system in which all Indianapolis residents feel trust.”
John E. Girton Jr, Faith in Indiana pastor at Christ Missionary Baptist Church:
“We are outraged that the Merit Board chose to add Aaron Bailey to the long list of our loved ones murdered at the hands of law enforcement with absolutely no recourse. From Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and now Aaron Bailey, this decision stole from us the belief that the United States is a place where Black and Brown people can live in freedom and safety.”
Sharon Trotter, a minister who is a Faith in Indiana leader at Promise Land Christian Community Church:
“This horror show that robs children of their fathers and mothers will not end until police officers who act recklessly are held accountable. It’s time for a new deal with the Fraternal Order of Police, so individuals who fail to uphold the charge to protect and serve can be held personally responsible for loss of life in criminal and civil court.”
The Rev. William Almodovar, Faith in Indiana pastor at Casa del Alfarero:
“This verdict is much larger than officers Dinnsen and Howard. It tells us that we still live in a time when simply invoking tired tales of ‘Black Men as threats to be feared’ will absolve police officers from their duty to serve and protect. As people of faith, we reject the demonic belief that fear and violence toward Black people is justified and demand a new deal with the police union focused on accountability and transparency.”
Jetra’ Daniels. Faith in Indiana leader at New Direction Church:
“While we grieve for the miscarriage of justice the Bailey family has endured. This Grief is not theirs alone. As a mother of a young Black man, I like millions of Black mothers, live in daily fear of getting a call that he was killed at the hands of the police. We will not sit on the sidelines, while our communities are terrorized by the state. Faith in Indiana is committed to make sure Indianapolis keeps down the road to reform and puts in place measures to hold law enforcement accountable and restore safety to Black and Brown communities.”
The Rev. David W. Greene and the Senior Rev. Wayne L. Moore:
“The Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and the Baptist Minister’s Alliance are most disappointed to hear that the Police Merit Board has decided not to terminate Officers Michael Dinnsen and Carlton Howard for their involvement in the death of Aaron Bailey. Although not physically present, we have been watching this case with great interest. We felt that the evidence as presented is overwhelming and a just result should follow. Further, we observed Police Chief Brian Roach, who has a long track record within IMPD, evaluate and made the recommendation for termination. The Chief was hired because he was deemed the best qualified candidate for the job with over 30 years of experience. How is it that Chief Roach would not know what was an offense is that merits termination? We believe that the Chief’s decision to terminate is correct and is in the best interest of IMPD and the Indianapolis community. With the Merit Board’s decision that have setback community policing back in our city.
“The African-American community remains extremely concerned about the large number of cases involving Police Action shooting of unarmed African-American suspects. Many of us were praying for justice and watching with great interest this Merit Board trial of the Officers Michael Dinnsen and Carlton Howard, wherein the Chief requested termination. One of the officers testified that he was in fear of his life at the time of shooting. It has been shared that during the training at the Police Academy, officers are taught to articulate fear to justify shooting suspects. If the officers were in fear of their life merely because the suspect was an African-American, clearly additional actions must be taken to allow justice for the family of Aaron Bailey. It cannot be accepted that every officer can allege “fear” and that be allowed the reason that an unarmed African-American be killed and supported by the Police Merit Board.
“In addition, there is a great concern about the composition of the current Police Merit Board. This Merit Board continues to support police officers to a fault. They want to call these decisions a teachable moment for the community when it is police chiefs that bring these recommendations for termination and not the community.
“Are they saying that our police chiefs who come forth with recommendations for termination are incompetent and do not know what offenses merit termination? The Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and the Baptist Minister’s Alliance believe that the Merit Board should not allow any person to serve on the board who have represented police officers in any capacity in their occupation.
“The Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and Baptist Minister’s Alliance hate to see the family of Aaron Bailey being another victim in Indianapolis of this senseless tragedy. Clearly changes need to be made concerning the Merit Board. For example, there must be an investigation of the board to determine if any current or prior conflicts of interest exists. Justice requires accountability!”