INDIANAPOLIS — While the recent Final Report of Independent Review Panel sharply criticized IMPD for its response to two nights of rioting in downtown Indianapolis last spring, the roles of Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears were also found wanting.
On Tuesday, Hogsett and Mears provided their responses in exclusive interviews with FOX59.
During that spring weekend, Mayor Hogsett kept a limited public profile, issuing tweets and statements calling for peaceful protests that apparently were lost on the crowd.
“It appears that those attending the protests did not see or hear (the Mayor’s) comments; or, if they did, did not deem them sufficient,” read the report by Hogsett’s handpicked three-member commission.
Apparently a decision by Hogsett to declare a curfew by the third night of the protest caught the Marion County Prosecutors Office by surprise and left IMPD without clear legal guidance on its footing when it came to making more than 129 arrests that weekend, many of them for curfew violations, which resulted in the prosecutor declining to pursue charges against 102 arrestees.
“The decision by the Mayor to issue a curfew…was not communicated in advance to or discussed with the Marion County Prosecutor,” read the report. “There should be better communication among agencies, including the Mayor’s Office and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office.”
“We were obviously disappointed that nobody told us there a curfew was gonna be enforced, that was going to be created, and then we weren’t sure what the parameters were gonna be in terms of how the curfew was going to be enforced,” Mears told FOX59. “How were those arrests going to take place for individuals with curfew, and so, it would have been helpful to let us know, number one, what’s the language of that going to look like, and then, how is that going to be enforced and applied? It would have put us in a better position to offer guidance to IMPD.”
The report found that Mears’ deputy prosecutors advised IMPD on the strict language regarding enforcement of the unlawful assembly statute but did not share a strategy or advice on establishing probable cause for such arrests, deferring instead to the guidance of IMPD’s legal adviser.
“Deputy prosecutors…were not willing to interpret the law for IMPD,” found the report, determining that “virtually no planning occurred…” and citing a “communications failure” between MCPO and the police.
“We’re kind of the third party in all of this,” said Mears. “The mayor and IMPD are connected to one another and, in a lot of situations, we’re the check on police and how police use their authority, so it’s important that we are in a position to provide charging decisions that are based on the objective facts as they are presented to us.
“We’re not gonna charge people with a crime unless they commit a crime, and if people want to come downtown to peacefully protest, we’re not gonna charge those individuals with a crime.”
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86 President Rick Snyder said Governor Eric Holcomb offered the mayor Indiana National Guard troops, and Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter had state troopers poised to respond downtown on the first night of the riots May 29, but Hogsett turned them down.
“If a stronger posture could not have prevented what occurred on Friday and Saturday night, then explain Sunday night to us,” said Snyder, referring to the third night of protests when, for a variety of reasons, including a less confrontational approach by IMPD and the presence of National Guard soldiers and state troopers, demonstrations occurred in a more peaceful environment.
“We all know that we had state troopers and the National Guard on standby both Friday and Saturday, that the governor and the superintendent of state police was making available to the city of Indianapolis, and then when they started to do the things that people know they should have done on Friday and Saturday — implement a curfew, utilize those resources — we closed off traffic in downtown Indianapolis on Sunday like we should have done on Friday and Saturday. Why didn’t that occur?
“Are you telling me that same police leadership and administrators who knew we should do that on Sunday didn’t know we should do that on Friday and Saturday? That doesn’t add up. What that tells me on Friday and Saturday that they weren’t allowed to utilize those techniques.”
Instead, state resources were deployed to protect the grounds of the Statehouse and various memorials and parks in downtown Indianapolis, and the commission’s report found that Governor Holcomb’s COVID-19 restrictions likely curbed Hogsett’s ability to declare a curfew Saturday night, a dilemma that was resolved the next day and is subject to current legislation before the Indiana General Assembly.
Both Mears and Hogsett were asked that if civil disorder were to occur again this coming summer in Indianapolis, would the results be different than the spring 2020 riots that left two people dead and approximately $8 million in property losses in a shattered downtown.
“I think certainly that that report indicated that there are a number of things that could have been handled differently and better that probably would have led to a better experience for both law enforcement and the people who came downtown to peacefully protest,” said Mears. “I’d like to think that we can create an environment where people can express themselves as they have a constitutional right to do so and it not end up in a situation where we see people being struck with tear gas and other agents that obviously created a situation and an environment that escalated the tensions pretty quickly.”
Hogsett’s mandate last June when he named the independent review panel of former U.S. Attorney Deborah Daniels, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby and Martin University President Dr. Sean Huddleston was to conduct a review restricted to IMPD’s actions that weekend and not focus on the performance of his office or the prosecutor’s or the activities of the crowd.
“It was a commission that was charged with the responsibility of providing a comprehensive review of what took place downtown Indianapolis in particular in the last weekend of May,” said the mayor. “They took a very thorough review. I think they were fully informed by IMPD and by the mayor’s office as well as the prosecutor’s office, so I think it was a comprehensive review, and I will let the report speak for itself.
“They have recommendations that I have no doubt that we’ll probably try to implement, but the findings that they made as a result of their review speak for themselves, and they have suggested that certain changes be made, and we’re gonna take their suggestions very seriously.
“I think that frankly the best thing that this report underscores is the fact that as difficult as that weekend happened to be, and it was, not just in Indianapolis, as you know, every major urban area in the country responded in like ways to the death of George Floyd, but, here’s the good news: since that difficult weekend, we’ve had over 130 protests in the city of Indianapolis alone, and each and every one of them has been peaceful.”
After the defense of his commission’s report and the city and IMPD’s responses to subsequent protests, I asked the mayor if, looking back, he would have done anything differently that weekend.
“I would do everything that I could to make sure that it doesn’t ever happen again,” said Hogsett, “and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”