INDIANAPOLIS– Nearly 6 months ago, a Marion County grand jury indicted two IMPD officers with felony charges after evaluating the evidence, which included video of a now-viral arrest.
The two women were out past the curfew set by Mayor Joe Hogsett, following back-to-back nights of protest, and later violence.
“I’ve never seen police act like that ever,” said Rachel Harding, the white woman seen shoved to the ground by officers, and later arrested.
In a one-on-one with anchor Beairshelle Edmé, Harding tells her that, “Things were boarded up and things were destroyed, and I felt like this was a memorable time in our history and I wanted to go visually be a part of it. I wanted to see it.”
The 39-year-old said shortly before the curfew she took her camera downtown to take photos, eventually running into a stranger doing the same, Ivoré Westfield, who at the time of this report was not ready to speak on camera about what happened.
Throughout her time downtown, Harding was photographing and filming video, which FOX59 exclusively obtained.
Minutes after her video ends, and with curfew in effect, officers arrested the two women.
“Without provocation, without notice, without any warning- phrase it how you want– these police officers attacked, and there’s no other word for it, they attacked these women and they attacked them with such viciousness and such violence that it’s hard to watch,” said Terrance Kinnard, the women’s attorney.
Harding & Westfield, the Black woman next to her shot by pepper balls 7 times & repeatedly struck with batons, are suing IMPD.
… What those officers did was wrong. You cannot put a price tag on that because understanding at this point, and at every point up to now, they have denied any liability or culpability for their actions.Attorney Terrance Kinnard
But if there is a price tag negotiated or awarded in this case, Indianapolis residents will be paying for it.
The Harding-Westfield excessive force lawsuit, like most of them against IMPD, may not even make it before a judge.
“I would say that the bulk of them are either settled or dismissed,” explained Anne Mullin O’Connor, the City of Indianapolis’ attorney with Office of Corporation Counsel. “We are— I don’t want to say pressed into settlement, but everyone is asked by the courts to consider mediating and settling the dispute early on.”
Indiana’s justice system does so to decrease the courts backlog and expenses, but then the settlement costs fall onto you.
We don’t always settle because we think we did anything wrong; it’s just a matter of finance… We are stewards of the taxpayer funds so we take very seriously the analysis we do early on. If we can settle a case for a small amount of dollars and even if we’re successful in litigation or believe we can be and if we can settle– I’ll just choose a number– for $5,000 and not have to spend $15,000 to get to that same determination down the road, that’s a win.Anne Mullin O’Connor, Indianapolis Office of Corporation Counsel
FOX59 requested 5 years of IMPD settlement agreements from Indianapolis’ Office of Corporation Counsel.
After a review of 117 cases, the verdict is in. You can hover over each bar below to see just how much overspending IMPD cost taxpayers.
Indianapolis residents are paying millions– more than $16 million in the time-frame our team researched; nearly every year from 2015 to 2020, Metro Police has blown past its settlement budget. For example, in 2015, local residents paid $4.5 million for IMPD settlements. The data FOX59 requested from the Indianapolis Office of Finance & Management also shows that’s 6 times more (513%) than what was budgeted for that year– $750,000.
So what are Indianapolis taxpayers paying for?
Often it’s allegations of excessive use of force, false arrests, and even accidents.
In 2015, one case cost taxpayers $650,000 and nearly a year of Carlos Starks’ life.
Case files claim IMPD Detective Lesia Moore used a photo line-up with an old, close-up mugshot of Starks. The man was interviewed by another officer the day of the murder and released. That’s because he had an alibi, which court documents show cleared him by another officer. Starks also didn’t match witness descriptions.
2 days into this murder trial, it was dismissed because the same witnesses —- who later saw the man in person, instead of the lineup — recanted and said it wasn’t him.
“99.9% of the time the cop goes back, or the officer– I don’t mean to be derogatory– the officer goes back to his employment,” Kinnard stressed. “There is a settlement of some amount or an award by a court of some amount. The officer goes back to his job. What would be the deterrent?”
Kinnard’s question is one being discussed nationally, particularly around qualified immunity. It’s a court doctrine that shields officers from civil lawsuits for actions they took while on the job. It’s why taxpayers instead foot the bill for these settlements.
There are conversations about removing this protection and asked about that, IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said, “I would say that that would probably limit a number of people thinking about going into the law (enforcement) career. Our officers are charged with protecting the citizens of this city. They’re put in very difficult situations from time to time– sometimes on a regular basis, really, so it would probably make an impact on our ability to hire and retain officers.”
A qualified immunity reversal would likely also take the financial responsibility away from taxpayers and place it onto officers– but for now, local residents foot the bill.
In 2016, Indianapolis paid $99,000 for a case again involving Detective Moore and similar allegations; IMPD’s investigation led to Derek Hazelwood’s arrest for his cousin’s murder. As with Starks’ case, the charges were dismissed after he served nearly 7 months in jail, passed a voluntary, lie detector test, and prosecutors’ doubt of evidence.
IMPD never fired Detective Moore, instead 2 years after this settlement, she retired, though no longer in the homicide department.
Asked about officers accused of similar offenses repeatedly and whether it raises a red flag, IMPD Chief Taylor answered, “Well, obviously– we have what’s called an early warning system. When we hear of complaints against officers, it will chart that in, and then I’ll be notified, or a supervisor will be notified if there’s multiple accounts.”
One area the chief also reviews is the type of allegations, including accidents.
Over 5 years, crashes made up a majority of settlements. In 2017, an accident with IMPD Officers Felicia Thompson & Brian Chasteen left a woman with “permanent injuries,” according to the lawsuit filed in Marion County. It cost local taxpayers $225,000. Chief Taylor says he too noted the high number of accident settlements, and since his term started has offered annual driving safety training to combat this.
In 2018, a police chase of Aaron Bailey ended in his death. An estate, established by his family, filed a lawsuit, citing excessive force and constitutional rights violations after Officer Michal Dinesn & Officer Carlton Howard shot the 45-year-old 4 times after he crashed his car into. That crash followed a traffic stop– turned police chase. Then Chief Bryan Roach called for the officers’ termination, saying, “sufficient reason did not exist to believe that deadly force was necessary to effect the arrest of Mr. Bailey.” The city settled the case for $650,000.
Today, new policies are in place so this instance or further accidents are prevented.
“You know, pursuing people for something simple as a speeding violation. You need to have more than that,” the chief explained. “At one point you could pursue for pretty much anything, but then you see the lawsuits, you see the loss of life, you see the danger in it, you start reviewing it, you realize– if all I got the guy is for speeding, I have to let that go because I’m not going to put their life, the officer’s life, and the general public’s life in jeopardy off a speeding violation. That– very well could be they’ve done something more serious, but if we don’t know about it, we’re not going to pursue it.”
Chief Taylor tells our team using this sort of practice helps identify trouble spots, as does his review of past settlements, like two involving the same officer from 2019, which is when Taylor was sworn in– December 31st.
In 2019, Officer James Perry was listed in 2 settlements involving excessive force during an arrest. Natavia Howell’s case resulted in a $10,000 settlement. Gerald Cole‘s resulted in a $2.1 million settlement.
Asked why should that officer still be on the force or other officers who have similar serious allegations & cost taxpayers large sums, Chief Taylor responded, ‘Well, we have to look at that obviously, and that’s a personnel matter that I can’t get into— I am aware of that officer, but yeah, that would be, that would be a concern, and that would be something that we could investigate and ultimately to figure out does that officer indeed still need to be a part of the department or are their other options.‘
What is laid out in this investigative report are just some examples found out more than 100 cases, but the chief tells Edmé they are instances not the norm under his new leadership.
“We don’t want taxpayers paying any more than they have to, but it’s one of those things that come along with running a city police agency,” the 34-year law enforcement veteran said. “I’m a taxpayer as well. So I’m concerned with where my money is going.”
Harding & Westfield’s attorney, Terrence Kinnard says you should be concerned too.
“See right now, the taxpayer should be upset when those funds have to come out of their– their coffers. Police bear literally no liability,” he said. “They’ve (Officers Johnathan Horlock and Nathaniel Schauwecker) accepted no responsibility that their conduct was aberrant and unnecessary, wrong, and illegal. They’ve accepted no responsibility so having a judge and jury impose that responsibility on them– that would be amazing.”
The two women want officers held accountable with more liability, but a court may never decide that.
Asked if a settlement award would be justice, Harding told Edmé, ‘It’s not about a monetary number. It’s not about infamy like I’m here and I show up just because I need something to change. And I feel like that’s important.’Rachel Harding, plaintiff suing IMPD for excessive force
But sometimes even change comes at a price.
One of the reasons this investigative report did not include more than 100 settlement awardees is because of the city’s confidentiality agreements.
NDAs are standard with settlements, but often raise questions about transparency, and what the court or lawyers uncovered about the allegation and the details of the case itself.
Indianapolis’ police chief & city attorney told FOX59 transparency is the city’s goal– that’s why they’ve shared the details of these cases.
You can find more examples of some of the most expensive and serious allegations throughout this report. Watch below for extended clips of our interviews with both city officials.