INDIANAPOLIS — A judge on Tuesday appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into the fatal shooting of an unarmed black driver by Indianapolis police officers nearly two months ago.
The move came after Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry stepped aside amid calls by community advocates for an outside authority to decide whether the two officers who shot 45-year-old Aaron Bailey should face criminal charges.
Bailey had been pulled over for a traffic stop when he suddenly drove off about 1:45 a.m. on June 29, according to police. A pursuit lasting about a minute ended when Bailey crashed into a fence and tree, after which officers approached the vehicle and fired. Police said no gun was found at the scene, but they haven’t described what led up to the shooting. Bailey’s family says an autopsy found he was shot in the back four times.
Craig Karpe, an attorney for the family, said Bailey’s relatives hope the appointment of a special prosecutor will end what Karpe called frustrating delays in the case.
Curry said he decided to withdraw from the investigation in part because his office is pursuing murder charges against a driver in the July 27 fatal shooting of Southport police Lt. Aaron Allan following a crash on an Indianapolis street.
“We are very concerned about the perception that could be created if we as an office are simultaneously prosecuting an individual for the shooting death of a public safety officer while at the same time, perhaps, passing judgment upon the officer-involved shooting of Aaron Bailey,” Curry said.
A Marion County judge appointed St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter to the case. Cotter was elected in 2014 as prosecutor for the northern Indiana county that includes South Bend after 12 years as chief deputy prosecutor. Curry said a priority was finding a prosecutor from a predominantly urban county.
Karpe said the Bailey family was concerned about Curry’s investigation because his office works closely with Indianapolis police on a daily basis.
“The family believes that if it was any other person besides a police officer they would be fired and arrested at this point,” Bailey said. “It’s just a frustrating level of delay. We understand that they want to be thorough and that these are politically sensitive matters. Hopefully, the appointment of a special prosecutor will get this process moving.”
Officers Michal Dinnsen and Carlton Howard were placed on administrative leave after the shooting and now are on administrative duty, police spokesman Officer James Gillespie said.
Several African-American community groups had called in recent weeks for a special prosecutor. The FBI’s Indianapolis office announced July 11 it was opening a civil rights investigation into Bailey’s death.
Satchuel Cole, vice president of the community activist group Don’t Sleep, said she was pleased with the appointment of a special prosecutor, but that she believed the officers should be fired and face criminal charges.
“This is not a win,” Cole said. “A win is a conviction, which we don’t get when its cases of unarmed black people and police officers that’s killed them.”