Bodycam footage depicts deadly encounter between IMPD and woman who drew gun

Indianapolis Area Crime

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department released body-worn camera video depicting the police shooting of a 36-year-old woman who drew a gun from her waistband during an encounter with officers.

The video was posted to IMPD’s YouTube page on Thursday.

Breaking down the footage

The footage shows Jessie Leonard shot and killed by police on the front porch of 556 Eugene Street on the afternoon of Sept. 24 after she warned officers not to come any closer and began to pull a handgun from her waistband.

Police were on scene investigating a red Honda Pilot parked outside the Eugene Street address that had earlier fled from a traffic stop in the 3800 block of MLK Street. During that incident, the driver of the Honda had been described as a white woman wearing a white hoodie.

IMPD had not pursued the vehicle but later found it parked on the corner of the 500 block of Eugene Street.

In the video, you can see IMPD Officer Shelton taking notes on the vehicle and speaking with a woman standing on the porch, who was later identified as 36-year-old Jessie Leonard.

IMPD said Officer Shelton saw Leonard take a handgun from her purse and put it in her waistband. He alerted another officer who arrived on the scene, but they did not approach her because they did not have a positive identification.

They were able to contact Officer Smith, who was at the traffic stop where the red Honda fled. Smith said he would be able to identify the driver and when he arrived the IMPD said officers approached the home, trying to identify if she was the driver.

That is when the video shows Leonard telling officers not to get any closer before reaching for her handgun.

In a few hectic seconds, the video shows officers warning her to stop before she started to pull the handgun from her waist.

Officers shot at Leonard and, at one point, you can see Leonard pointing the handgun at officers before falling off the ledge.

The IMPD said officers then went to render first aid until medical units could arrive. Leonard was pronounced dead at the scene.

Community leaders respond

IMPD officers have been involved in 11 shots fired incidents this year resulting in three deaths.

Mayor Joe Hogsett and IMPD Chief Randal Taylor led a walk of police officers and neighbors past that house Wednesday afternoon just after I asked the mayor what he sees when watching videos of fatal officer-involved shootings.

“I see a whole lot of people who end up pointing guns at police officers and that’s why you’ve heard me say this before: My admonition to everybody in this city is, regardless of what situation you find yourself in, don’t ever point a gun at a police officer because nothing good can come from that.”

After protests in the spring and summer of 2020 over the killing of Dreasjon Reed — an armed man fleeing a traffic stop who fired a shot at a pursuing officer — Hogsett, the City-County Council and IMPD made several efforts to increase transparency and police accountability.

All IMPD patrol officers are equipped with body-worn cameras and citizens hold the majority of seats on both the IMPD Use of Force Board and the General Orders Board.

“I think, for the most part, bodycams are serving the purpose they were intending to serve,” the mayor told me. “The body cameras have — for the most part, not without certain exceptions, but for the most part — what we as a department, what the city and frankly even the FOP would now acknowledge, is that bodycams are a great line of defense for our officers and provide clear and convincing evidence that lives were being threatened.”

Pastor David Greene of the Concerned Clergy acknowledges some progress has been made but many in the community remain skeptical.

“The sharing of video? That’s a step in the right direction,” said Pastor Greene. “Those things were really typically delayed, but we also want to see all the videos as opposed to the police department citing, ‘Hey, you get to see this, but you don’t see some other things.’

“True transparency will be when they can show it and let the community decide.”

Earlier this month Chief Taylor announced he was suspending an officer captured on body-worn camera video apparently kicking a handcuffed man, Jermaine Vaughn, in the head during an arrest on Monument Circle in September.

“I think the only things the cameras do is document things, which documentation is good, but in the cases with George Floyd and Dreasjon Reed and recently the brother on the Circle, it’s never prevented anyone from being hurt or harassed,” said Mutulu “Zion” Ekundayo, a domestic violence victim advocate from the Flanner House, not far from the site of the Eugene Street fatal police shooting.

“I think that surveillance and technology is good, but it’s just a retelling of the things that we already know. It’s one thing to see it on the news, but it’s a different thing to live in the community where even if you’re not doing anything, you feel like a victim,” he added.

The IMPD Use of Force Board held its first meeting in early July and began digging into a backlog of officer-involved shooting incidents stretching back to last year.

The investigation into the shooting on Eugene Street will continue as the Use of Force Board will review the incident as will the IMPD Internal Affairs Unit.

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