INDIANAPOLIS — Two Indianapolis police officers who fatally shot an unarmed black motorist after he fled a traffic stop won’t face criminal charges in the killing, in part because the officers told investigators they believed he was reaching for a gun, a special prosecutor announced Tuesday.
St. Joseph County Prosecutor Kenneth Cotter cited the officers’ claims of self-defense in deciding that he wouldn’t file charges against them in the June 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 tearful news conference with the family’s attorney 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 said she was stunned when Cotter briefed her and relatives Tuesday on his findings and told them the officers would not be charged in what she called “my dad’s murder.”
“If cops feel like they should just shoot somebody in a car because they’re scared then don’t be an officer,” she said. “We’re supposed to trust the law and right now that’s really hard to do.”
She encouraged people to attend a Tuesday evening rally in downtown Indianapolis to protest the decision, but asked them to keep it peaceful.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett released a statement offering his prayers for Bailey’s family and friends. The Democrat said he asked Police Chief Bryan Roach to gather all evidence from Cotter’s investigation and any other available evidence for an expedited internal review of the officers’ actions so that “an administrative decision can be rendered as quickly as is responsible.”
Roach scheduled a Wednesday news conference to discuss Cotter’s findings and the internal review process.
The president of the police union didn’t immediately return a message for comment Tuesday.
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.
Cotter’s report states that a female passenger in Bailey’s car told investigators that Bailey, who was on probation for a theft conviction, drove off because he thought he would be going to jail for a malfunction involving the GPS monitoring device he was wearing. But the report states the two officers didn’t know Bailey’s GPS device was malfunctioning.
In citing support for the officers’ self-defense claims, the report states that Bailey turned toward the car’s center console after the crash and opened the console. It states that he also placed his hands out of the officers’ sight, disregarded their repeated demands that he show his hands and appeared to be searching the console area.
Howard yelled to Dinnsen that Bailey was “digging” — a term officers use to indicate that a person is looking for a weapon, according to the report.
The car’s passenger, Shimeka Ward, told investigators that Bailey did not open the center console and she believed the crash impact and air bag deployment had opened the console.
Cotter’s report states that no firearm was found in Bailey’s car. It also says that aside from Ward, investigators found no other people who saw the shooting.
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.
Dinnsen and Howard were placed on administrative leave after the shooting and later assigned to administrative duty, according to the police department.
In July, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Indianapolis said they were opening a civil rights investigation into Bailey’s death.
Jay Abbott, special agent in charge, said Tuesday that the FBI in Indianapolis is continuing to work with Justice Department officials to determine whether Bailey’s federal civil rights were violated when he was killed by the officers.
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.