INDIANAPOLIS– When the sun rose over the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis at dawn on May 30, the heart of the city still smoldered.
The sounds of panes of broken glass crashing onto the pavement as crews sought to secure window fronts shattered by rioters and looters the previous night echoed through the streets.
Strangers arrived downtown to sweep up storefronts at businesses they did not own.
Muffled voices expressed dismay at what had begun as a peaceful protest on the Circle against social injustice spiraled out of control into a full blown riot with IMPD running from incident-to-incident, playing whack-a-mole with roaming bands of people, first intent on raising their voices for safety and equality but then evolving to or being joined by others with more nefarious intents and becoming a rampage of arson and vandalism that had already caused millions of dollars in damages the night before.
“I figure they’re coming back,” said owner Chris Karnavas as he viewed the damages at Jack’s Donuts in the shadow of the Statehouse, his eyes hollowed and frightened after he fought to keep his business from being gutted by rioters on Friday night. “I figure we’re gonna go through this again.”
Karnavas was right.
Then Mayor Joe Hogsett sent out a tweet:
Earlier the mayor tweeted out that a “smaller group” of the larger crowd had committed the widespread damage that led to looted stores at Circle Center, fires that damaged the CVS and TJ Maxx stores along Illinois Street, breached the Eastside doors at the Indiana Statehouse, did $500,000 damage to the FEDEX store just off Monument Circle, launched scooters through windows of the Sheraton Hotel and Starbucks at Meridian and Ohio, attempted to storm a stalled Red Line bus on North Capitol Avenue and torched the car of a disabled military veteran in the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church near the Indiana Convention Center.
IMPD officers also saved the life of one rioter who kicked in a restaurant window only to have a pane a glass fall and slice into her leg nearly severing a femoral artery.
“I’m about in tears,” said John Bush as he swept up the glass that littered the sidewalk in front of the gutted Windsor Jewelry that morning. “I don’t know how this is supposed to be going on.”
While Indianapolis cleaned up, Mayor Hogsett struggled to find a peaceful solution that respected the rights of protesters to protest but also protected the city from more damage.
“I was made aware of what was occurring throughout the entire time,” Hogsett told me several weeks later when I asked him where he was Friday night when the rioting started. “Then it turned bad it was later in the evening I was made aware and I, too, immediately turned on the television and started watching what was happening, so it was a real time awareness of what was going on.
“The truth is I was in the office all day Saturday and I was meeting with a wide variety of different people,” Hogsett said. “We were in touch with those who were organizing the efforts on Saturday night. I left the building and went home hopeful that all the protests that we knew were going to take place would be peaceful.”
Jess Louise of Indy Ten Black Lives Matter said she was one of those people who talked to the mayor that day.
“We met with the mayor Saturday morning in regards to the uprising that occurred on Friday evening. At that time we encouraged the mayor to do everything in his power to settle the souls of his constituents, namely to name the officer that killed Dreasjon Reed, to have a plan going forward on how to hold that officer and other officers accountable within IMPD.”
(This week the Special Grand Jury that has been impaneled to investigate the killing of Dreasjon Reed by a Metro Police officer who said the fleeing man was shooting at him is expected to announce its decision on potential criminal charges.)
As the mayor left his office to wait out Saturday night with fingers crossed that promises made by peaceful protest leaders to disband their gatherings by seven o’clock would hold true for all demonstrators who were expected to descend on downtown in the hours to come, IMPD commanders once again began convening in a conference room at IFD 7, the fire department’s headquarters several blocks away at 935 Fort Wayne Avenue.
When I asked an IMPD commander if he expected protesters would be successful in fulfilling the promise the mayor based the city’s Saturday night demonstration response strategy on, he simply shrugged and told me officers would take a more forward leaning approach to that evening’s anticipated protests, seeking to remove leaders agitating for violence before things got out of hand.
Weeks later, another top ranking IMPD officer told me that that afternoon, within the confines of the command center, with top Hogsett aides in attendance, the option of declaring a curfew to provide police with a tool to maintain order downtown had been discussed and dismissed because city officials didn’t think they could complete the emergency order paperwork before noon the next day.
“And I must say, Russ,” the mayor told me as we took a walk past boarded up windows along East Washington Street in late July, “given what I saw on TV, and given the way Saturday night developed, I’m not all together sure even if I had issued a curfew that violence could have been prevented that night.”
At 5:30 p.m. hundreds of protesters marched from a rally at the War Memorial down Meridian Street toward Monument Circle.
A construction worker repairing damage from Friday night’s riot told me he heard a man approach two protesters and announce he was from Seattle and was in town to offer supplies and advice for the demonstrators that night.
The crowd attending the rally on the Circle began to disperse at 6:15 p.m., well ahead of the protest leaders’ seven o’clock commitment made to Mayor Hogsett earlier in the day.
Other crowd members broke off from the gathering at the Circle and began circulating throughout downtown, venturing as far as Mass Ave and East Street on the north and to New Jersey and Market Streets on the east.
On Mass Ave, diners enjoyed dinner and drinks on the patio of the Eagle on a warm summer evening while blocks away at Dick’s Bodacious BBQ, some customers were being served their bills as late as 8:30 p.m. at sidewalk tables overlooking the corner of Market Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
At 8:15 p.m. a man dressed all in black with the handle of a tennis racket sticking out of a backpack and an orange traffic cone tucked onto his right arm walked past Jack’s Donuts toward the Circle as jugs of milks began appearing on street corners throughout downtown.
“It is largely understood though, Russ,” the mayor told me the day we took a walk downtown several weeks later, “that, yeah, there were people from outside of Indianapolis who came down to Indianapolis and I have to believe that some of their intent was to peacefully protest but I also happen to believe that some of the outsiders who came to Indianapolis that night probably did not have peaceful protests in mind.”
Days later, a SWAT officer filed a Blue Team report required after each Use of Force incident and wrote, “Many Black Lives Matter and Antifa members were downtown. Before the sun went down, it was discovered that the Indiana Lightfoot Militia was running a counter protest and were armed with firearms (pistols/rifles) and were wearing body armor.”
As my photographer and I rounded the corner of the City County Building at 8:50 p.m., I spotted the leader of Indianapolis’ protest community among the crowd on Market Street. A window on the lobby of the CCB had just been smashed, doors were barricaded and a protest leader pointed the crowd to the intersection of Market and Alabama Streets, shouting, “Don’t do this. This is what they want.”
It was understood that the “they” referred to was IMPD.
“As things transpired in front of the City County Building later in the afternoon, again, we observed what we know to be active measures taken against law enforcement to turn a peaceful protest into a violent riot,” IMPD Deputy Chief Josh Barker told reporters three hours later. “Rioters using amber lights and emergency equipment in private vehicles to block Market Street on one end. You had other rioters join arms and make a human chain at the other end and we saw people donning eye protection, masks as they moved up and went from a peaceful protest to actively crowding the building, starting to bang on the windows, throwing frozen water bottles and it culminated in an individual who we caught on camera and will seek to prosecute actively kicking out a window of our City County Building. This community’s City County Building. The center of this community’s government. They kicked the window out. The deputies inside had to request IMPD’s assistance.”
Inside the CCB lobby, Marion County Sheriffs deputies in tactical gear stood at the ready as IMPD Event Response Group officers advanced eastbound on Market Street toward the crowd at the intersection bordering Whole Foods.
According to IMPD’s Computer Aided Dispatch system, at 8:57 p.m., “Announcements made at CCB to disperse,” followed two minutes later by reports of, “Crowd is starting to throw bottles and objects at officer and their vehicles,” “Officer injured struck in face brick,” and, “Molotov cocktails being launched.”
At 9 p.m., IMPD ERG officers began launching tear gas into the Market Street crowd, scattering dozens of protesters, leaving many gasping and cursing and one announcing, “If they go to their guns, we’re going to ours.”
As the crowd moved northbound on Alabama Street to the unmarked offices of the Marion County Prosecutors Office at 251 East Ohio Street to do more damage, several protesters were handcuffed and placed into the back of jail wagons outside of Whole Foods.
Tear gas haze hung in the air near, “The center of this community’s government,” as two protester “medics” walked by with milk jugs and one told a caller on his cell phone, “This is no f….ing fun. This is no joke, brah.”
At 9:30 p.m., at the corner of Market and Delaware Streets, ERG officers took a break and regroup, checked their ammunitions and drank water, as a supervisor warned them about the professionalism of the protesters they faced.
“These guys are very good,” the supervisor said. “They are matching us tactic-for-tactic.”
Where just an hour before, customers at Dick’s Bodacious BBQ paid their tabs, windows were being shattered at Pennsylvania and Market Streets, and dozens of angry protesters linked arms in the intersection, blocking off access to Monument Circle, and jeered at police officers a block away.
At ten p.m., IMPD ERG squads marched westward, launching tear gas, scattering the crowd and sending several people southbound on Pennsylvania Street where they immediately accessed dumpsters and set several ablaze, blocking the pavement before Washington Street, forcing officers to drag the receptacles away while others dissolved in heaps.
“Sir, which way can I go?” a young woman pleaded with me as we shot video from the safety of a parking garage entrance. She pointed past the flaming dumpsters. “My car is parked over there.”
“That’s where the riot is,” I said. “I wouldn’t go there.”
She left and returned minutes later in tears, still hemmed in by the violent aftermath of the peaceful protest she thought she signed up for.
Around the corner on Washington Street, a woman was spotted by our camera grabbing a two-by-four and Fox 59’s Aaron Cantrell announced, “I’ve seen someone carry a sledgehammer to bust out windows at these businesses.”
As the clock crept closer to midnight, a white SUV with orange cones on the hood, likely designating a protest leader according to IMPD intelligence sources, did donuts in the intersection of Pennsylvania and Washington. TJ Maxx and CVS were looted again. “Caller adv subjs in blue/grn Buick has approx. 6 subjs in the veh with machine guns threatening to go to City Cnty Bldg shoot it up,” read the IMPD CAD. Banks were being burglarized every few minutes.
And then Angus Dobson decided to run from the police.
At Washington and Meridian, IMPD officers arrested Dobson, 33, for resisting arrest, rioting and disorderly conduct, all misdemeanors. During Dobson’s handoff to Marion County Sheriffs deputies for transport to jail, the arrestee took off, running up the south spoke of the Circle toward the Monument, his hands cuffed behind his back.
An IMPD supervisor could be heard shouting at pursuing officers to jump in their cars to track down the escaping offender.
When officers recaptured Dobson on the Monument attempting extricate himself from their handcuffs, they noticed his backpack was soaked in blood.
“Officers on the scene believed the blood coming from Mr. Dobson’s backpack was animal blood,” read the Blue Team report. “Officers know from their training and experience animal blood is a common tactic employed by protesters and rioters to confuse Officers and play for potential press coverage.”
As Dobson struggled with officers he was subdued with a baton strike.
That’s when officers pulled off his backpack and determined Dobson likely suffered a deep back laceration and potential sucking chest wound from a large broken bottle in the backpack.
“Their prompt recognition of the injury sustained by the suspect during his second attempted flight from officers custodial arrest saved the suspects life,” read the Blue Team report. “All of this occurred during the middle of an active riot with large crowds making direct attempts to harm and kill officers, and the suspect himself had items to attack police with and due to his own aggressiveness, he harmed himself instead of officers.”
A search of court records indicates no outstanding criminal charges against Dobson.
And then the protests and riots took a deadly turn.
At 11:39 p.m., IMPD reported that a caller said her friends were robbed by four males in a parking garage at Pennsylvania and Vermont.
Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana later released surveillance video showing the four men swarming the woman in the car and robbing her at gunpoint.
Four minutes later, former IU football player and entrepreneur Chris Beaty was shot to death at Vermont and Talbott Streets, just feet away from the robbery scene.
“Enough is enough. Indianapolis, we are better than this,” IMPD Chief Randal Taylor told reporters during a midnight briefing outside the IFD 7 command headquarters. “Downtown is not safe at this time.”
It was not long after that that the CVS store was looted and set ablaze for the second night in a row, but this time arsonists moved deep inside the store to light the flames while attempting to open a safe containing narcotics in the pharmacy. The store was gutted with losses pegged at $2.5 million and no sign of reopening.
U.S. Senator Mike Braun’s office at 115 North Pennsylvania Street was vandalized as next door someone tried to pry an ATM from the outer wall of Bank of Indianapolis.
At Cento Shoes at 33 South Meridian Street, vandals broke in, ransacked the clothing displays, stole authentic leather goods, carefully separating them from fake purses left for repair, and destroyed the backroom machines Tony Cento needs to make a living.
“They don’t care,” he told me during a visit to his store in late August. “They just want to hurt you and do anything they can to prove their point, which I still don’t understand what it is, and just do everything they can to take you out and destroy your life.”
The sound of gunfire, 15 shots in all, echoed around the intersection of Alabama and St. Clair Streets as an officer trying to protect Crown Liquors at 150 North Delaware reported, “too many people for him to take action need more unit to take back store.”
At 12:28 a.m., in what was one of the few incidents of rioters moving up Mass Ave, security officers at the Walgreen’s Pharmacy in the 300 block reported looting. Soon, the AT & T store further up the Avenue would also be hit for $28,000 in losses. The T Mobile store at Washington and Meridian was burglarized for the second night in the row with only sales associate business cards left to be looted. Someone threatened to burn down Riley Hospital for Children. Circle Centre went up for grabs again as officers reported, “need help at Illinois Entrance…too many people inside heavily looted.” A responding officer arrested a 60-year-old man for burglary there. Rocks rained down on the street from the upper floors of the parking garage overlooking the intersection of Illinois and Maryland Streets.
Event Response Group and Mobile Field Force officers were running short of manpower, weapons, tactics and strategy to curb a second night of now deadly rioting that had downtown Indianapolis in its grip.
“ERG/MFF quickly ran out of chemical munitions,” read a Blue Team report. “It was taking a significant amount of time for ERG to be restocked and many ERG units were nearing a point of panic as they were getting completely overwhelmed by the crowds that were actively throwing items at them. The crowds began using mortar fireworks and launching them towards the lines of ERG officers. There were not enough ERG squads to respond to the area and gain control of the stores at the time.”
At 1:25 a.m., an armed man broke into the Indiana Convention Center and IMPD responded.
After clearing the building, officers spotted a priest at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in a confrontation with rioters.
“Several subjects were threatening to break into the church after leaving the convention center,” wrote Officer Ronald Clayton. “I observed the group arguing with the priest outside the church front doors. I heard the Father tell the group “you will have to hurt me or beat me down before entering my church.’ I issued my non-lethal pepper ball launcher to stop the individual which was effective. The Father was very grateful he was not hurt nor was his church.” Clayton’s supervisor later wote, “It is my opinion he used reasonable force in deploying his pepper ball launcher on the male. It passes the reasonable test. The events that night/morning were very tense, uncertain and evolving rapidly minute by minute.”
And the protesters themselves were not immune to being victimized by crime as one reported an AR15 stolen from his vehicle on Delaware Street.
At 2:05 a.m., the civil unrest downtown claimed its second victim as, Dorian Murrell, 18, was shot to death at Penn and Market by Tyler Newby who said he fired in self-defense.
(IMPD homicide detectives have investigated whether Murrell played a role in the parking garage robberies and the murder of Chris Beaty that happened on Vermont Street two-and-a-half hours earlier.)
At the Penn and Market homicide scene, an officer is punched in the face. At 2:28 a.m., an officer at 300 East Maryland Street reports, “Subject walked up confessed to shooting someone by circle.”
In the last hours before dawn, IMPD continued responding to random acts of violence and calls for help.
At 5 a.m., IMPD records its last arrest of a second long night downtown, a 17-year-old male apprehended for burglary at Circle Centre.
He is drunk.
There are more crowds and more tear gas and more vandalism the next day and for weeks to come but the mayhem is more restrained. Two ERG officers are indicted for battery in their takedown of a pair of women for resisting Sunday night. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears declines to bring charges against a vast majority of those persons arrested over the weekend. Many businesses and restaurants downtown never reopen, whether it was due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown or the aftermath of the riots. Plywood boards still cover many storefronts as signs naming those who have died in police confrontations or quoting the peaceful message of Bob Marley have come down. So has the, “I can’t breathe graffiti,” citing George Floyd’s last words as he was pinned to the Minneapolis pavement days before the Indy riots and the words painted on the boards covering the broken windows at Chris Karnavas’ Jack’s Donuts: “I’m sorry Chris but we have to be heard.”
A source told me that officers became aware that protesters intended to take over Mass Ave as a potential autonomous zone with barricades and inhabitants and that businesses along the street were already targeted for fee solicitation to support the operation.
The plan never materialized.
“Why did we have Saturday night if we knew Saturday morning at five thirty that Saturday night was coming and this probably was going to happen again?” I asked the mayor as we took our walk around downtown on July 20th.
“Well, I think it’s safe to say, we had an extraordinary number who came downtown during the course of the afternoon who were here to do one thing, Russ, and that was to peacefully protest,” said Mayor Hogsett. “And that’s what they did. Unfortunately there were also people embedded in that protest who had ulterior motives. They came down here to wreak havoc.”
Recently I asked Jess Louise of Indy 10 BLM who was to blame for the late May protests getting out of hand.
“The mayor disregarded our call for transparency and accountability and the onus is on the city as well as the police force for the seven million dollars in damages and murders that happened in downtown Indianapolis,” she said. “This occurred because city leadership continues to disregard the basic needs of their constituents and when their constituents come to them and plead and vote and ask what those needs are, those needs continue to be neglected. “
Now, a three-member commission appointed by Mayor Hogsett, including former U.S. Attorney Deborah Daniels, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby and Martin University President Dr. Sean Huddlestone, has been assigned the task of reviewing how IMPD and the City responded to the civil unrest of that final May weekend with a report due by the end of the year with recommendations on how to handle future protests.
Mayor Hogsett was asked if he wanted to be interviewed for our report on the riots and how his office responded.
He declined pending the release of the Commission’s report.