May 6, 2021

Judge Alters 'Red Flag' Process After Indianapolis FedEx Shooting

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears speaks during a press conference following the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. - Jill Sheridan/WFYI

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears speaks during a press conference following the mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.

Jill Sheridan/WFYI

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — All “red flag” cases filed by Indianapolis police will now come before a judge after an Indiana prosecutor was criticized for declining to use the law to pursue court hearings that could have prevented a man from accessing the guns used to kill eight people at a FedEx facility last month.

Judge Amy Jones, who oversees the filings of red flag cases in Marion County, issued new guidance this week. All such reports will now go straight to her courtroom instead of the prosecutor’s office. Indianapolis police will have 48 hours to submit those filings, and two judges will then decide within 14 days whether to hold a hearing.

Indiana's red flag law allows police to confiscate guns from a person deemed dangerous to themselves or others. Prosecutors can then ask a court to ban that person from buying any other firearms, though the law does not mandate prosecutors to seek a red flag hearing.

Jones' new guidance comes after Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears decided not to bring Brandon Scott Hole before a judge for a red flag hearing, even after his mother called police last year to say her son might try to die from “suicide by cop.”

Police seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole, then 18, in March 2020. Mears said his office did not seek a red flag hearing because the law didn't give prosecutors enough time to definitively demonstrate Hole's propensity for suicidal thoughts. Mears specifically pointed to a 2019 change in the law that requires courts to make a “good-faith effort” to hold a hearing within 14 days.

Indianapolis police have said that they never returned that shotgun to Hole. Authorities have said he used two “assault-style” rifles in the April 15 shooting before he killed himself.

Michael Leffler, a spokesperson for the Marion County prosecutor, said Thursday that conversations about changes to the red flag filing process began before the shooting. He said the prosecutor's office hopes the new guidance "will improve the process." One change involves having a second deputy prosecutor review red flag cases, which Leffler said “will provide a diversity of opinion for these important decisions.”

Leffler said Mears will continue to pursue legislative changes to the law. The prosecutor has said the law has too many “loopholes,” including one that allows a person under investigation to buy a gun until a judge makes a final ruling.

Indianapolis police have made at least 45 red flag referrals to the prosecutor’s office so far this year, according to Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police President Rick Snyder. Mears’ office said it filed eight cases since January. All are awaiting rulings.

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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