NAACP calls for Merit Board changes in wake of decision to clear officers in Aaron Bailey’s death

Aaron Bailey (photo courtesy of his daughter)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– The Indianapolis branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) says the decision by the Civilian Police Merit Board to clear two IMPD officers in the fatal shooting of Aaron Bailey shows changes are needed in the way the Merit Board works.

Bailey crashed after leading police on a short chase. Officers Carlton Howard and Michal Dinnsen 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 seven-member panel of citizens came to the decision the officers did not violate policy and could keep their jobs after three days of testimony. While a special prosecutor found no criminal wrongdoing, IMPD Chief Bryan Roach had recommended the officers be fired.

Greater Indianapolis NAACP President Chystal Ratcliffe issued this statement:

“Our organization finds it very disturbing that the Merit Board did not conclude that the two officers’ conduct on the morning of June 29th does not constitute a terminable offense.  Withstanding the recommendation of a 30-year veteran police chief and the supporting fact finding of the two officers’ peers on the Police Firearms Board that the officers failed to follow established lethal force policies and procedures, it raises serious concerns within our community as to what is the litmus test for finding an officer’s actions terminable.  Decisions like these erode the trust of the community and call into question whether the accountability to the community is merely superficial when an officer violates established police procedures.

“The NAACP is committed to a proactive approach to police shootings and is committed to being a part of the solution to this egregious problem. It is our desire to assist in creating an optimal model of law enforcement accountability, which will strengthen the core of establishing safer communities for us all.”

NAACP Indianapolis is calling for the following changes:

  • An evaluation of the Merit Board’s review standards for when an officer’s conduct in the use of lethal force will sustain a recommendation for termination;
  • Establishing a dialogue with all stakeholders — including the Fraternal Order of Police, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, and the Mayor’s office — in establishing best practices for use of lethal force;
  • Allowing for the community to provide amicus briefs to the Merit Board when an officer’s conduct in use of lethal force leads for a call for termination;
  • The creation of a special attorney whose role is to represent the community in actions where an officer’s conduct from a use of lethal force calls for termination;
  • Action by the Indiana General Assembly, particularly our Marion County lawmakers, to enact legislation to change the statutory standards for the use of deadly force by law enforcement;
  • Action by the Indianapolis City-County Council to begin reviewing lethal force uses, procedures, and practices to include pubic comments, expert testimony from professionals, and examination of other cities’ and municipalities’ best practices.

The NAACP says Indianapolis can learn from this incident and become a national model for successful interactions between police and the community.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett also noted he wanted to see changes to the Merit Board after calling the decision “disappointing and frustrating.”

In a statement released Thursday night, Hogsett said in part:

“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.”