INDIANAPOLIS — An initiative named in honor of fallen Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer Breann “Bre” Leath is making significant strides just ten months after it was launched.
The Law Enforcement Action to Halt Domestic Violence Against Men, Women and Children (L.E.A.T.H.) Initiative aims to reduce domestic violence in Indianapolis and Marion County.
Officer Leath was shot and killed on April 9, 2020, while responding to a call for help from a domestic disturbance on the east side. The 2.5-year veteran of IMPD was only 24 years old when she was killed, leaving behind her young son.
Even after her passing, Bre continues to make a difference in the community. Her mother, Jennifer Leath, said Bre was an advocate for helping people impacted by domestic violence.
“It’s a huge accomplishment because Breann was and actually both of my girls — all three of my girls — have experienced a little bit of that situation,” said Jennifer. “All were able to break free of it, thank goodness, but there are people that can’t.”
In Oct. 2020, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced in partnership with IMPD and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana, the initiative in Officer Leath’s name. It aims to reduce domestic violence in the community, support survivors, and coordinate victim and witness services in partnership with local, state, and community-based social service agencies.
“The ATF told us it was kind of like having her handcuffs on them and I’m hoping that that continues,” said Jennifer.
Tyra Cunningham, Resident Agent in Charge of the ATF 1 Indianapolis Field Office, said the ATF wanted to find a way to remember and honor Bre after she answered the ultimate call of duty. The choice to name the initiative after her was met with the blessing of her family and the IMPD.
“When we run across those targets that fit into that criteria in our recommendation to the U.S. Attorney‘s Office for a federal prosecution, we include the title of her last name, just again, to honor her,” said Cunningham.
“We want women, men and children in those relationships to be safe and that’s the call we can answer in honor of Officer Leath,” Cunningham shared.
So far, since the initiative launched in Oct. 2020, the ATF has referred 52 people to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana for federal prosecution.
“We haven’t even hit a year yet. We are actually averaging more than one per week, with 39 of those 52 actually happening within this particular calendar year,” Cunningham explained.
“We want to recognize the hard work of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the U.S Attorney’s Office, and the lives Project L.E.A.T.H already has made a difference in. IMPD is committed to protecting victims of domestic violence and the law enforcement officers who respond to these dangerous calls,” said IMPD Chief Randal Taylor.
“We also want to recognize that this program, named in honor of Officer Breann Leath, showcases her dedication and commitment to public service, her bravery, and sacrifice to others,” Taylor continued.
Federal law says it is illegal for someone with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, someone who has been convicted at the state or federal level, and a person with a final protective order against them, to possess a gun.
To identify people with a history of domestic violence who are committing crimes with an illegally-possessed gun, Cunningham said, ATF agents and ATF Task Force Officers within the newly-renamed Indiana Crime Guns Task Force (ICGTF) take a three-pronged approach.
“Which is the Project Safe Neighborhoods project with the IMPD districts as well as the agents that sit within the Crime Guns Task Force office space and through NIBIN leads,” said Cunningham. “We actually are able to look at an individual’s criminal history to determine if they would fit the criteria.”
If it’s determined based on a person’s criminal history that they have met any of this criteria, an ATF Task Force officer with the ICGTF or an ATF agent will look at the case and work in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana to decide if they’re a viable candidate for federal prosecution.
Once a case is presented, it will be received by one of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the case will be examined to determine if it meets three standards for federal prosecution:
- Will the case support a federal charge?
- Is it a compelling federal interest?
- Is there sufficient evidence to prove the case?
This is the standard process when a case is referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of Indiana. If the answer to the three questions is yes, then it is usually submitted to a grand jury for indictment and the case makes its way through the court system.
“It’s a process and it takes some time, but we have made a significant start I think with Project L.E.A.T.H. both of the awareness and initiation of the prosecution,” said John Childress, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.
Although there is not an exact number to show right now, how many cases have been submitted to a grand jury, Childress said 52 cases being referred to his office is a ‘significant’ number that highlights the progress made so far.
“I can say very comfortably that since Project L.E.A.T.H. started we can attribute about 10% of the firearms cases that we’ve had this year to that effort,” said Childress. “I think it speaks to the heightened awareness that law enforcement has with regard to that potential for tragedy.”
Of the IMPD officers killed in the line of duty over the last 10 years, Childress said, “half of them were responding to a domestic violence call.”
He said the death of Officer Leath was, yet another tragedy faced by the department, community, and Bre’s family and further emphasized the need for intervention before it happens again.
“We also know very definitively that a domestic abuser who has an access to a firearm is really five more times — five times more likely to kill his or her victim,” said Childress. “So, we know this combination of a firearm and domestic abuse is a tragedy waiting to happen. Anything we can do to intercede and stop that chain of events, we’ll jump at, and we have.”
“We were very blessed to know her in the short time we had her here, but I think that her legacy is far-reaching and I’m very happy about that,” said Jennifer.
“Officer Leath truly believed that everyone deserved a relationship free of domestic violence and we are so proud that her legacy continues,” said Chief Taylor.
According to data provided by IMPD, as of Aug. 18, there have been 6,548 domestic violence reports made to the department since the start of 2021.
In the same time period of 2020, IMPD said that number was 5,913.
A shooting on Aug. 11 that left an IMPD officer injured, two others dead, and an 11-year-old child injured, highlighted, once again, the dangers faced by police while responding to domestic disturbances and the dangers faced by those within the homes where domestic violence is occurring.
“Whenever I hear I hear an officer has been injured, especially shot, I’m right back to when I got that phone call,” said Jennifer. “I don’t want another family to feel like us because that’s horrible and I know there’s been people before us, there will be people after us, unfortunately, and every single day there’s families that are in our situation.”
She hopes through this program honoring Bre, while continuing her legacy and service to others, that it will hold one more person accountable to prevent another family from losing a loved one.
Remembering Officer Breann Leath
Since April 9, 2020, stories of Bre’s impact shared with her family by friends, co-workers, and even strangers from the community and around the world, have helped the Leath family in their healing process.
“We’ve met a few people that said, ‘I am an officer because I was thinking about it and I saw your daughter’s story’ or they just made changes in their lives to be like her because she’s an inspiration to a lot of people,” said Jennifer.
Her sisters and mother said Bre always sought out the person sitting by themselves or someone who may have been the new kid at school. She wanted everyone to feel included and cared about.
“She always wanted to be somebody’s friend,” said Jennifer.
“I remember she was always like a world peace advocate,” said her younger sister Tiana. “She’s the type to draw the world and put a bandaid on it. She just always kind of had that mindset of like, I’m gonna make the world a better place.”
Older sister Jayla added, “Take away the officer, be like her as a genuine person because even still, there are things that we’re finding out even a year after her passing.”
Her sisters said she was a calming and peaceful person — someone anyone wanted on their side. They also joked that she was always the mediator in their sister fights growing up.
“But also, the instigator,” said Jennifer. The sisters laughed in agreement.
Jennifer said the family keeps Bre alive through laughter and sharing memories of Bre. They also said her memory lives on through her son Zayn, who was the light of Bre’s life.
“I miss her laugh. She had the best laugh and the best smile,” said Jennifer. “We’re definitely feeling her loss, but so much stuff has come good out of her passing.”
Domestic violence resources
For people in domestic violence situations in need of help, there are several resources in the Indianapolis area that you can reach out to for assistance, including:
- Beacon of Hope Crisis Center
- Families First (Breaking Free)
- The Salvation Army/Ruth Lilly Women and Children’s Center
- Coburn Place
- The Julian Center
- Silent No More
You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 (SAFE) or visit their website to learn more.