Black leaders urge Indy police to fire five at arrest

INDIANAPOLIS (AP)—Members of Indianapolis’ Black community gathered June 11 to demand the city fire all five police officers who were present during a violent arrest that left a 15-year-old biracial youth with a bruised, swollen face.

Reverend Stephen Clay said the Indianapolis Met­ro­politan Police Department should have fired all the officers who were at the scene when Brandon Johnson was arrested. Chief Paul Ciesielski said June 10 he had recommended that Officer Jerry Piland, 36, be fired for continuing to strike the teen during the May 16 incident after other officers had subdued him.

VICTIMIZED—A photo of Brandon Johnson, taken after the 15-year-old boy was struck in the face repeatedly by Indianapolis police during his arrest on May 16, is shown in front of Johnson during a news conference in Indianapolis, June 10.

An internal police investigation exonerated three officers and recommended a reprimand for another who was not directly involved in Johnson’s arrest.

Clay, of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church, said it didn’t matter if any of the five struck Johnson or merely witnessed the incident if they failed to intervene.

“It is unequivocal that all officers involved in this case should be terminated immediately and a criminal investigation should be launched immediately,” he said at a news conference last Friday attended by about 30 community leaders.

A police report said witnesses saw Johnson’s brother try to kick in the door of an abandoned building near their home and officers who responded went to arrest him for breaking and entering. Police say Johnson and others pro­tested the arrest, and that Johnson tried to incite a crowd that had gathered.

The report says he resisted arrest, squaring up as if to strike the arresting officer and breaking the officer’s grip when he was nearly handcuffed.

The teen’s family denies Johnson resisted police, and they and Black community leaders have called for a federal investigation into whether Johnson’s civil rights were violated. Piland and the other three officers directly involved in the arrest are White, while Johnson’s mother is Black and his father is White.

“I’m grateful to have one bad cop off the streets, but there was a lot of wrongdoing here that day,” Johnson’s mother, Chantay Chandler, said at a news conference June 10 at the family’s home.

“One token firing is not enough,” said the family’s attorney, Stephen Wagner.

Clay, president of the Baptist Ministers Alliance, also called for the dismantling of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s internal affairs unit, saying it had reached questionable conclusions in this and other cases. He said internal affairs should be replaced with a new investigative unit with civilian input and oversight.

“Brandon was not a criminal,” Clay said. “He was a victim …This community will not stand by and watch while our kids become victimized by a few rogue officers.”

Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi has said he is investigating whether the officers broke any laws, and the FBI is reviewing the facts to determine whether to conduct a full federal investigation.

Indiana Black Expo Inc. said it was pleased with the chief’s recommendation to fire Piland and would not comment on the findings involving the other officers.

“We respect the investigation process and withhold judgment until all the facts and evidence are revealed,” Black Expo President Tanya Bell said in a statement.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Frank Straub said Friday it was clear police had more work to do to bridge the gap with the Black community.

“We must recognize our differences, build upon our strengths, acknowledge our failures, engage in a meaningful and honest dialogue, and never lose sight of the obligation we have to each other: to improve the quality of life for every resident, in each of our neighborhoods, by removing drugs and illegally possessed guns from our streets,” Straub said in a statement.

He pledged to enlist community representatives to help improve training and community policing policies.

Fraternal Order of Police officials said Piland was being made a scapegoat and noted that his dismissal still must be approved by a civilian police merit board, which will hear evidence from both sides.

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