IMPD fails to internally review nearly half of recent police shootings

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – According to IMPD’s own internal policies, when anyone is killed or wounded by an officer, even when shots are fired and miss, a Firearms Review Board is to be convened to determine if department policies and procedures were followed.

Records provided to FOX59 by IMPD show the department failed to convene such a board in 19 of the 44 police-action shootings that occurred from 2015 through 2017, leaving lessons unlearned and supervisors unable to confirm their officers acted appropriately when drawing and shooting their firearms.

“This is an administrative process we haven’t done a very good job of, me included,” said Chief Bryan Roach. “I understood that there were firearms review boards that had not met and we were behind.”

During those three years, IMPD cycled through three chiefs: Rick Hite, Troy Riggs and Roach, and support staff turnover and transition and data collection challenges left gaps in the firearms review system.

“It’s easy to get behind,” said Roach. “It’s easy to not to stay on top of things.”

Roach and his predecessors have dealt with technological, financial and operational challenges including an undermanned police force and a lack of recruitment classes plus a climbing murder total while trying to gradually revitalize the department with contemporary techniques and training.

“I think we have six fatal shootings in ’15 and ’16 that still had not been reviewed,” said Roach. “Those will be top priority. We have another handful of people who had been shot that have not been reviewed and those will be top priority, too.”

There were 20 IMPD police-action shootings in 2015. Nine have never been reviewed, 10 were found in compliance or justified and one was found not justified.

In 2016, of 16 police-action shootings, four have been investigated and found in compliance, 10 others have not been scheduled for a review but two are on the calendar, including the fatal shooting of Jeff Tyson, who led officers on a pursuit across the county from north to south while officers said he fired on them with a semi-automatic rifle before he was shot to death on the southeast side.

Three of last year’s eight shootings have been examined with the death of Aaron Bailey, an unarmed man, on June 29 ruled not in compliance with department policy.

“Proper procedures were not instituted and maintained,” said Craig Karpe who represents the Bailey family in a federal lawsuit against IMPD after he learned of the department’s own non-compliance to hold firearms review boards in the wake of previous shootings. “It speaks for itself.”

While the Bailey shooting was reviewed in a timely manner with Roach recommending that the two officers involved be fired, Karpe said, “There’s a need to create consequences for actions.”

One fatal police shooting that was ruled in compliance was the 2015 death of Christopher Goodlow, a man suffering from a mental illness issue when officers said he lunged at them with a knife.

“He couldn’t have been in his right mind because he don’t do stuff like that,” said Denzell Sanford who recalled his step-brother had been battling mental illness for ten years at the time of his death. “There’s other ways. They could’ve tased him, they coulda hit him with rubber bullets or anything. Anything to stop them from killing him. Everybody deserves a life. He didn’t deserve that at all.”

While the officers were determined to be in compliance with department policy for firing on Goodlow in defense of their own lives, IMPD has sought to retrain its employees to take a less confrontational and more reference-based approach in dealing with persons in the midst of mental illness or substance abuse crises.

“It kind of gets me upset because my brother he could still be here to this day if they was following proper procedures,” said Sanford. “It do seem like after my brother got killed it was like an eye opener to the police officers where they needed more training with mental illness patients and stuff like that.”

Roach said he expected to complete the review of the outstanding cases by the end of the year and will deliver an update during a February stewardship meeting, a new monthly update to the community on key IMPD strategies and initiatives.

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