INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two Indianapolis police officers won’t face criminal charges for the June shooting death of an unarmed black motorist who crashed his car while fleeing from a traffic stop, a special prosecutor announced Tuesday.
The decision by St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter comes after the family of 45-year-old Aaron Bailey sued the city in September, contending that officers Michal Dinnsen and Carlton Howard used excessive force and that Bailey posed no threat to them. Dinnsen is white and Howard is biracial.
Authorities say Bailey had been pulled over for a traffic stop about 1:45 a.m. on June 29 when he suddenly drove off. After a short chase, Bailey crashed into a fence and tree. The officers then approached the vehicle and fired.
Dinnsen and Howard fired at least 11 shots at Bailey, with four bullets hitting him in the back, according to the family’s lawsuit.
Police said no gun was found at the scene, but they have provided no details on what prompted the officers to shoot. The reason for the traffic stop also remains unclear.
A judge from Marion County, where Indianapolis is located, appointed Cotter to oversee the shooting investigation on Aug. 22 after Marion County’s prosecutor stepped aside. Several African-American community groups had called for an outside authority to decide whether the officers should face criminal charges. Cotter was elected in 2014 to be prosecutor for northern Indiana’s St. Joseph County, which includes South Bend, after 12 years as its chief deputy prosecutor.
After Cotter was appointed to the case, a lawyer for Bailey’s family said relatives hoped the move would end what he called frustrating delays. Attorney Craig Karpe said the family believed anyone other than a police officer would have been charged soon after the shooting.
Dinnsen and Howard were placed on administrative leave after the shooting and were later assigned to administrative duty, according to the police department.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Indianapolis said in July they were opening a civil rights investigation into Bailey’s death, but have not announced any findings.
Satchuel Cole, vice president of the community activist group Don’t Sleep, has said she believed the officers should be fired and face criminal charges.
The federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Bailey’s adult son and daughter and his sister contends that the officers fired their weapons into Bailey’s vehicle “without prior verbal command or warning” after the crash impact deployed its air bags.
At no time after the crash did Bailey try to exit his vehicle, turn to face the officers or try to flee the scene, the lawsuit states, adding that Bailey never “acted in an aggressive manner” toward the two officers.
Attorneys for the city have declined to comment on the lawsuit and haven’t yet filed a response with the court.
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