Merit Board decides not to terminate officers in fatal shooting of Aaron Bailey

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Two Indianapolis police officers who fatally shot an unarmed man last year will keep their jobs, the Indianapolis Police Department (IMPD) Civilian Merit Board decided Thursday. They were cleared of all potential violations in a 5-2 vote.

Officers Carlton Howard and Michel Dinnsen were suspended from their positions after the June 29, 2017, shooting that killed 45-year-old Aaron Bailey.

Bailey crashed after leading police on a short chase. Officers shot him after a traffic stop and said they thought he’d reached into the vehicle to get a weapon. Bailey was unarmed and no weapons were found on him or in the car.

The controversial shooting took place just 18 seconds after Bailey crashed his car.

IMPD Chief Bryan Roach recommended the officers be terminated because they did not follow their training. The IMPD Firearms Review Board determined the officers did not comply with their training.

The officers’ hearing before the Merit Board lasted three days.

Howard and Dinnsen testified Bailey ignored their commands, with Howard standing at the side of the car and Dinnsen at the rear. Dinnsen then tearfully explained Thursday why he pulled the trigger.

"At that point he turned toward officer Howard. I believed he had a gun and was going to shoot officer Howard, and so I shot into the back of the car," he said.

Officer Howard testified for two days in a row that he feared for his life in the moments before the shooting.

"I don't think I could have waited a split second. My whole heart I thought I was going to be shot that night," said Howard.

“It’s never something I wanted to do or be a part of.  I didn’t become a police officer to do this,” said Dinnsen.  “It’s a traumatic incident for everyone involved.  I feel terrible about what transpired and think about it all the time.”

During the hearing, both officers called for better training from the department to try and prevent this sort of shooting from happening again.

After the decision was announced, Chief Roach said this was a "lose-lose situation."

"We presented our case and we weren't able to persuade the civilian merit board to vote our way," he said.

Roach said the decision was disappointing.

"We follow the process and do the best we can and this is the result of that process."

He said he knows citizens will be frustrated with the decision and asked them to bear with the department.

Criminal charges were not filed against the officers, but Bailey’s family has filed a civil lawsuit in the case.

FOX59 caught up with Bailey's daughter, Erica, shortly after the board announced its decision. She said she won't stop fighting for justice for her father.

“I’m just hurt, because I feel like they should have done the right thing,” said Erica.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett issued this statement:

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.

The Indiana Black Expo sent the following statement to FOX59 on behalf of several organizations:

On the morning of June 29th, the actions of officers Michael Dinnsen and Carlton Howard—who shot Aaron Bailey after he was involved in a car accident—resulted in yet another death of an unarmed African-American without accountability in Marion County. The Police Merit Board failed the community by rejecting the recommendation of IMPD Chief Bryan Roach to terminate the employment of the officers. IMPD officers should have the training, skill, and expectation that encounters with citizens should be resolved by means other than lethal force—even when citizens flee. Lethal force should be the last resort. Chief Roach, who has 30 years of law enforcement experience, determined that Officer Dinnsen and Officer Howard violated IMPD policies that were designed to keep us safe. Consequently, those officers have no place in our community. Although we have no choice but to accept their authority as officers, because they were allowed to keep their jobs, they have lost respect in the community due to the failure to uphold the oath they took to protect and serve the community.

Criminal justice systems across the country are facing a crisis of legitimacy. Indianapolis’ criminal justice leadership faces this challenge with broad segments of the community that feel there are different systems of justice. We cannot have two systems of justice. It is an open question as to when the last time a police officer in Indianapolis has been prosecuted for killing an African-American in Marion County. While some segments of the community will move on, we cannot and we will continue to fight for justice. We still remember Michael Taylor, Brandon Johnson, Christopher Gudlow, Mack Long and many others who either lost their lives or who had their rights violated by a system that unjustly criminalizes African-Americans.

The criminal justice system is supposed to be about public safety; however, many in our community do not feel safe. How can African-Americans in Indianapolis continue to be shot with impunity and leaders in the criminal justice system not be concerned?

We appreciate Chief Roach and his transparency as well as his commitment to due process, however the outcome requires that city leadership produce accountability—accountability beyond the special prosecutor report or the transcripts of the latest hearing. We demand the accountability of action. Officer Dinnsen and Officer Howard should have lost the privilege of serving our community but they did not. Unfortunately this will result in a further deterioration of community and police relation, as well as a loss of public trust. We recognize not all officers are bad, but bad behavior such as this erodes the faith of those who still want to believe in the good of IMPD.