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.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter cited the claims of self-defense from the officers in deciding he wouldn’t file charges against them in the death of 45-year-old Aaron Bailey. He said in his court report that there’s “insufficient evidence to refute” their claims “of subjective fear or the objective reasonableness of that fear.”
Bailey’s family 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.
Bailey’s daughter said during a news conference that she feels let down by the investigation and believes the decision signals to police officers that it’s OK to kill someone when they’re scared.
“It’s basically like a slap in the face,” Erica Bailey said. “It’s basically telling me we have no laws.”
She encouraged people to attend a Tuesday evening rally in downtown Indianapolis to protest the decision, but asked them to keep it peaceful.
Messages for comment from the city police department and the police union president weren’t immediately returned.
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.
Howard fired six shots through the car’s back passenger window area, while Dinnsen fired five shots through the back windshield area, according to Cotter’s report. An autopsy found that four bullets hit Bailey in the back.
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.
Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.