INDIANAPOLIS — A Hancock County jail officer is charged with reckless homicide following an apparent accidental shooting at an apartment complex on Indy’s northeast side.
Newly filed court documents go into further detail into why prosecutors believe 21-year-old Eric Salinas did “recklessly kill” 19-year-old Austin Bunn at the Lake Castleton Apartments on May 8.
Indianapolis Metropolitan police officers were called to Indy’s northeast side off Carlton Arms Drive on May 8 just after 8 p.m. on a report of a person shot. When they arrived, they found Bunn suffering a gunshot wound to the left side of his head. Bunn was taken to a local hospital where he later died.
Investigators said inside the apartment they found Salinas, who told officers on the scene that Bunn was going to clean his gun for him. He added that it had not been cleaned yet and Bunn had a cleaning kit. He entered Bunn’s bedroom, removed the magazine from the weapon and did not realize there was a bullet in the chamber.
Salinas told officers that as he handed the gun to Bunn, his finger was still on the trigger, “kind of, and just pop,” according to court documents. He said he saw Bunn’s phone drop and thought, “what the hell” and turned around and saw Bunn was “leaking.”
Salinas advised officers that he is an employee of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office and Bunn was an employee of IDOC who worked at the Pendleton facility.
Investigators were able to get a search warrant and searched the apartment for evidence including what they said was the bed in a far bedroom that had blood and other fluid on it. They also found a spent cartridge casing under the bed.
Officers were able to interview Salina’s girlfriend who explained that Salinas called her from work “upset” stating Bunn was going to clean his gun for him and he accidentally shot him in the head while clearing (unloading) the gun. She told him she would come home and that he needed to call 911.
She added that Salinas and Bunn had been roommates for a year or so and that she moved into the apartment with them in January, sharing a room with Salinas. Officers say she advised that she had never seen the men act carelessly or play with firearms, but they did occasionally point tasers at one another in the “spirit of play.”
Court documents state Salinas then gave another account of the incident to detectives at the homicide office that investigators claim differed from the initial statement given on scene. In the second statement, Salinas told detectives after obtaining the barrel brush for his gun he walked into Bunn’s room. While Bunn was lying on his bed,
Salinas entered the room, removing the magazine saying, “Hey, Bunn,” and then pulled the trigger after the magazine was removed. His previous statement indicated it happened while he was handing the gun to Bunn.
Salinas also stated he pulled the trigger on the gun to hear the “clicky” noise indicating he could then remove the slide from the frame to prepare for cleaning.
“Guns just don’t go off. That means something pulled the trigger. That means your finger was on the trigger when it shouldn’t have been,” said firearms safety instructor and second amendment attorney Guy Relford.
Relford, who has literally written a book on gun safety and cleaning, insists accidental shootings are 100 percent preventable.
Relford said there are four rules for safe gun handling. The first is to treat every gun as if it’s loaded. The second is to always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Third, keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Fourth, always be sure of your target
“So I thought it was unloaded is never an excuse because you treat every gun as is it’s loaded,” said Relford.
While Relford is not connected to this case, he said a jury may have to decide if the suspect’s actions were criminal or simply negligent.
“Was this a simple innocent accident or did this constitute a serious crime like reckless homicide?” said Relford. “Because every accident is not a crime.”
Investigators also spoke with two separate friends of Bunn’s. Both shared information about growing tension between Bunn and his roommate and said he was looking for a new place to live. One even added that Bunn recently purchased a gun for his “personal protection” after asking to stay at her place.
Salinas is an intake officer at the Hancock County Jail and was required to be armed while transporting prisoners. He had recently failed the department’s annual firearms course in April and the department kept his weapons and magazines until he passed the ILEA qualifications.
On May 5, Salinas successfully met the minimum score required and his firearm and magazines were returned days before the deadly incident on May 8.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department issued a short statement that read:
Mr. Salinas is employed as a jail officer with our agency and has been on paid administrative leave since the event. This is incident was a tragedy. Our thoughts are with the victim’s family. We will continue to work with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and will refer all questions regarding this case to their department.
Bunn’s father reached out to Fox59 after this story aired and expressed various concerns with how the case was handled. He reiterated that there was growing tension between his son and Salinas.
Christopher Bunn sent this email to the station:
If Austin would have survived this tragic event, he may be telling a different story than what has been released.
At this time, Fox 59 is the only news agency I am aware of that has reported about the “growing tension” between my son and his killer, Salinas. I want this information getting out, I want investigators to take another look at the evidence. My son was so concerned for his safety that he and I had a rather uncomfortable conversation only 6 days prior to this incident, details of which I shared with detectives. That conversation with my son took place on May 2, the “accidental shooting” happened on May 8.
It is beyond time for harder questioning about potential motives, as this may not have been “accidental” at all. Austin’s position at the DOC was “Intelligence Analyst” and many of those closest to him believe that he may have uncovered “dirt” on Salinas, prompting the urgency in his actions in the final days of his life.
What “qualifications” were not met for Salinas to lose his department issued handgun? How could someone trusted by Hancock County to carry a department issued handgun lack basic firearm handling skills? Why would Salinas need someone else to clean his gun for him, wouldn’t the department have instructed him how to perform basic maintenance on the weapon? Why did Salinas call his girlfriend before 911?
My son no longer has a voice and is now relying on the rest of us to tell the story of his final moments. Serious questions need to be asked about the manner in which IMPD handled its investigation too. Why was my son’s killer allowed to walk free with only a sworn statement? Why wasn’t the crime scene immediately secured? What evidence was compromised as a result? Did investigators even consider this as a possible murder or did they simply collect evidence to support Salinas’ sworn statement?
Salinas is being charged with reckless homicide, a Level 5 felony. He was able to post a $15,000 bond and has been released from the Marion County jail pending trial.
Jesse Wells contributed to this report.