June 29, 2020

Women Sue 4 Indianapolis Officers, Claiming Excessive Force



Updated June 29 at 4:10 p.m.

CASEY SMITH - Associated Press/Report for America

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two women have filed an excessive force lawsuit against four Indianapolis police officers after video was released of officers using batons and pepper balls to subdue the women at a protest last month over the death of George Floyd.

Ivoré Westfield and Rachel Harding, both of Marion County, filed the federal lawsuit Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Three Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers and one sergeant — all named as “John Does” — are listed as defendants. The names of the officers involved in the incident have not been released.

According to the lawsuit, the women are seeking damages, attorney’s fees and litigation expenses.

Westfield and Harding were taken into custody shortly before 9 p.m. on May 31 in downtown Indianapolis. The lawsuit states that Harding and Westfield were approached for violating curfew but that they remained passive and cooperative with officers.

Video of the arrest, recorded by WISH-TV, shows Westfield, who is black, being held from behind by a white male officer, escaping his grasp and then being surrounded by several other officers. There were audible pops and several clouds of spray near Westfield, which the lawsuit contends were caused by detonated pepper balls. Two officers struck her with batons until she fell to the ground, and she was then pinned face-down by a baton at the back of her neck.

Harding, who is white, could be seen and heard in the video shouting, “Why her? Why her?” Another officer then rushed Harding and shoved her to the ground, where officers subdued her.

Officers recommended charging Harding with violating the curfew order, a misdemeanor, according to the lawsuit. They also recommended charging Westfield with felony battery against a public safety official, resisting law enforcement and a misdemeanor violation of the curfew order.

The lawsuit states that the Marion County Prosecutor declined to file charges against either woman.

The police department declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Police Chief Randal Taylor said June 5 that as part of the department's investigation into the officers' actions, it was looking at how they were trained to respond to heated public protests. He said the officers involved had been reassigned to support duties and would have no contact with the public pending the outcome of the investigation.

Taylor said officials were looking at whether the officers’ conduct was “reasonable," and that the actions he saw on the video were worrisome.

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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