INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Chief Bryan Roach told reporters Wednesday that eyewitness accounts do not sway him from his analysis that a trio of Metro officers feared for their lives when two plainclothes officers fatally opened fire on a man riding in a vehicle on the northeast side last Friday night.
Roach said an autopsy revealed Deshon Downing, 45, died from several gunshot wounds to his left flank after reportedly pulling out a gun and aiming it at the officers.
“His back was toward the windshield which would indicate that he had turned all the way around,” said Roach.
An East District Flex team officer, tasked with battling narcotics, finding guns and arresting wanted suspects, watched the occupants of a white van engage in a suspected narcotics buy in the 4200 block of Brentwood, according to Roach.
That officer pulled the van over in the 8500 block of East 42nd Street.
“As he approaches the car he asks the driver for identification,” said Roach. “The driver produces what I think is a drivers license. He then asks the passenger which ends up being Mr. Downing. He asks the passenger for his identification. From what we have so far, the response was, ‘I’m from Illinois,’ and he gave a name and a date of birth that did not end up being his real name Deshon Downing.”
Downing was a longtime resident of the northeast side who had been convicted of shoplifting in June and possession of cocaine in July.
At the time of the shooting, Downing was supposed to be on home detention for the cocaine conviction and on probation for the shoplifting conviction. His failure to report to Community Correction to receive a GPS tracking monitor for his home detention sentence resulted in an arrest warrant, a probation violation and a 21-day jail sentence.
Roach said the officers at the scene did not know that because they hadn’t yet determined Downing’s true identity.
The Chief said the best account of the shooting comes from the original officer who was approaching the van that was being monitored by a pair of plainclothes officers with their guns on their hips at the passenger’s side of the vehicle.
“You have all three officers at the passenger door. Now you have one of the engaging officers open the passenger’s side door. The intent is to get Mr. Downing out of the car. From the witnessing officer, again, the one that did not engage Mr. Downing, we get what he describes as (Downing) going to the waistband and then coming out and turning.”
In demonstration to reporters, Roach twisted in his chair and brought first his left and then right arm around to his right side replicating what the first officer reported was Downing’s actions.
“So if this is the passenger side coming out and turning and what the officer says is, ‘I pushed off.’ None of the officers has their weapons out. He says, ‘I pushed off so that I would not get shot in the head.’ The officer said he saw the gun as it came across. When he pushes off to create distance he hears the other two officers making commands and shooting.
“He hears shots. Doesn’t know if they came from the passenger or the officers. He just hears shooting.”
Roach said two guns were recovered from the scene, one inside the vehicle, the other on the ground outside the driver’s side door.
An initial officer’s account that a gun was recovered from beneath Downing’s body was inaccurate, said Roach.
Roach said a criminal homicide investigation by IMPD detectives and an Internal Affairs probe have been launched.
The first officer has cooperated with both inquires, said Roach.
The two shooting officers have not yet spoken with homicide detectives, as is their right, and Roach does not know if they will.
Roach noted the first officer is a white male. The shooting officers are both policemen, said Roach, one white and one Hispanic.
Roach said on Sunday detectives returned to the scene and found more witnesses who were not encountered Friday night and their versions of the shooting do not contradict the observations of the original officer on the traffic stop.
“I don’t have anything that would indicate anything else happened other than what that witnessing officer said,” Roach reiterated, “a gun coming around and being pointed in his direction and him pushing off and fearing that he would be shot.
“I have nothing that would suggest other than those officers were in fear of their life. They weren’t prepared for when that gun came around and they reacted based on their training and in the preservation of their life.”
Roach said as Flex team officers, along with investigators from the Gun Crime Intelligence Center and detectives from the multi-agency Indianapolis Violence Reduction Project, proactively seek out so-called “trigger-pullers” and wanted and armed felons, they will continue to put themselves in harms way.
“If you’re going after people who have a propensity for violence, that propensity could certainly turn on us,” he said.
Roach indicated that IMPD has improved its training for all officers when it comes to carrying out high risk traffic stops and operations, especially in the wake of the 2017 killing of Aaron Bailey, an unarmed man who wrecked his car while fleeing from police and was shot to death as officers feared he was going for a weapon.
Roach said enhanced training has reduced the number of officer-involved shootings in the past several years.
“If you look back at 2014 and '15, I think we had 20 or 21 officer-involved shootings. In 2016 we had 16. In 2017 we had eight. Last year we had four. So far this year we’ve had three,” he said.
Three people have died in police-action shootings in the last three years.
This past spring an east-side officer was wounded while a suspected shoplifter wrestled for his gun.
The last IMPD officer to die in the line of duty was officer Perry Renn in 2015.
Roach said next week he will review the investigation into the Downing shooting and refer the case to the Marion County Prosecutor who may take it before a grand jury.