FOP chief: IMPD riot report intended to give mayor political cover

Crime in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 86 President Rick Snyder said a report issued on IMPD’s response to the social injustice protests that devolved into murderous and destructive riots downtown in May of last year was designed to provide cover for Indianapolis and Marion County’s top political leaders.

The three-member commission that drew up the report was appointed by Mayor Joe Hogsett last June.

“It tells us what everybody in the city of Indianapolis knows: it’s politicians covering their backsides for their failures. It wasn’t our police that failed our city. It was our politicians that failed our city,” said Snyder in his first interview since reviewing the report that was released Friday. “It is our political leadership that abdicated their responsibilities and took a compromise posture that allowed this to then flow over and devolve into the situations that we then had.”

The report faulted IMPD frontline officers for their presence during the opening hours of the May 29, 2020 protest in tactical protective gear on Monument Circle before growing crowds of demonstrators.

Protesters testified before the commission that the presence of the Event Response Group officers, arrayed beyond typical patrol officers at a secondary perimeter, intimidated the crowd and led to its aggressive reaction.

The report also found that IMPD officers took an offensive posture, blocked egress routes for the crowd to spill out to the Circle and other locations and did not sufficiently cede ground to the advancing demonstrators.

A CBS4 review of IMPD radio transcripts from that first night of protests indicates officers were continually ordered to back off and permit crowds to take control of streets and intersections beginning in the 4 p.m. hour.

Arriving officers were told to not use their lights and sirens on their patrol cars as they approached the downtown area.

“Slow down, stay back,” was one order transmitted at 7:51 p.m. “We are in observation mode.”

That order was sent after officers reported, “They’re trying to encircle us,” and, “They are getting more aggressive,” and, “They are trying to intimidate the squads,” and, “They are handing out shields. They know about pepper ball.”

The first instance of police-deployed CS gas was at 7:30 p.m.

Protesters told the commission members — former U.S. Attorney Deborah Daniels, former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Myra Selby and Martin University President Dr. Sean Huddleston — that deployment of riot control agents such as CS gas, pepper balls and tear gas incited the crowd, which was predisposed to oppose alleged police brutality and injustice.

Despite small skirmishes, over the next couple hours, officers continued to back up and give the crowd room to roam downtown after Deputy Mayor Dr. David Hampton negotiated with protest leaders on Monument Circle.

“Go ahead just be advised we worked a deal with them. They are going to stay on the Circle,” one commander radioed at 8 p.m. “We’ve moved our officers back to the south curve, so all of the Circle is open and a good 50 feet between us and the protesters.”

“Ok, psychologically I want you to slowly back up as far as you can go, no further than Ohio Street,” one commander ordered officers, “but don’t do it all at once. Give them plenty of space, back off of them.

“We want all cars off the Circle.”

Officers reported that as they attempted to follow that last order, the crowd would surround their vehicles and make it impossible for patrol cars to exit the Circle.

“The more we move back, the more they advance,” one officer radioed.

“Don’t use force to stop them,” said a commander who advised that by 8:30 p.m. it was getting difficult to move officers into the downtown area.

At 9 p.m., a commander reported that the crowd was throwing water bottles with ice at officers.

“If we got to make an arrest at this point, it will cause more problems than it’s worth,” the commander advised.

Officers continued backing up, giving over control of intersections off the Circle to the crowd.

“We are no longer holding any terrain at this point,” a commander advised.

The time was 9:30 p.m. as an officer observed that, “We’re not holding the Circle anymore.”

“So we want to leave the area here unattended?” another officer asked.

“Sounds good to me,” was the response.

At this point, radio transcriptions indicate IMPD had resigned itself to following the crowd or clearing intersections as it walked throughout downtown.

“Make sure you don’t confront them,” a commander advised.

Said another officer, “We are not going to put any more of our officers in harms way to get too close.”

“They are approaching Washington Street. They’re pretty close and emboldened. They’re very angry,” radioed a commander. “Almost like they’re trying to catch us.”

By 9:45 p.m., a man was spotted jumping on cars on Washington Street, and five minutes later, the downtown Sheraton Hotel reported that its windows were being broken out.

At 10 p.m., IMPD was still blocking intersections for the moving protesters, some of whom had broken into a run.

“Stay away from them,” a commander radioed. “Get your cars out of there, and find a spot somewhere to block traffic for them.”

By 10:05 p.m., Indiana State Police troopers had reported for duty in the vicinity of the Statehouse where an IMPD commander advised metro officers, “Let’s go ahead and at least get your helmets on and batons out.”

An officer asked, “You have any further guidance on what to do at this time as far as dealing with the crowd causing property damage?”

“Our directive has been to stay away from them,” was the response.

That was the problem, said FOP President Snyder.

“We had the situation contained on the Circle here allowing people to utilize the Circle to express their views, and it was people outside of the police department that was intimating directions to our command staff to relinquish this area and then to completely stand down, allow people to move throughout the city at their will, which rapidly devolved into people not only committing property damage but also violent acts.

“That’s what led to this devolving into this situation was the constant repeated orders to stand down, to continue to allow this to spill out and to continue to allow it to ramp up in its volatility.”

By 10:13 p.m., IMPD was seizing water and medical supplies left by the protesters on the Circle, for which the commission found fault.

“Take everything they have there,” was the order.

Three minutes later, windows were being broken and outdoor tables overturned at 47 South Prime Steak House a block from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and IMPD sources indicate that’s when the protest began turning into a free-for-all of vandalism.

At 10:28 p.m., a live social media feed from inside the crowd indicated that protest leaders were attempting to shut the demonstration down and return on Saturday.

The crowd wasn’t listening.

As the action moved to the vicinity of Ohio and Meridian streets, IMPD Grenadiers — officers trained in dispersing tear gas — were deployed from the City-County Building as officers attempted to push the protesters back to Monument Circle.

Just before midnight, an officer attempted to make an arrest as the demonstrators crowded in and backup officers were called to the scene.

“We need more cars. They are not letting us out,” was the call for help as another officer radioed, “We need pepper ball and probably gas.”

Two warnings to the crowd followed, and then a commander told officers, “Put your masks on.”

10:54 p.m.

“Smoke and gas has been deployed, smoke and gas deployed.”

Snyder wants the public to hear what officers heard that night.

“Play the tapes,” he said. “Why haven’t you heard the audio tapes of the radio traffic that night? When you hear them, you’re gonna hear complete chaos, and as officers are begging for more help because their lives are in danger, our police administrators are getting directions from politicians to continue to stand down.

“There on the radio traffic you can hear their cars being hit, and yet they ask the question, ‘What do you want me to do? I have no backup.’ And you know what they were told?

‘Go in by yourself.’

“And yet we’re gonna chastise them because they had the audacity to put a helmet on? To put extra body armor on? Are you kidding me?”

The commission report found that IMPD used tear gas more as a crowd control device as opposed to a response to impending danger.

“Go ahead, give them more gas,” a commander ordered officers west of the Circle at 11:13 p.m.

“CS and pepper balls have been deployed at Market and Capitol,” a commander advised. “Having minimal impact right now due to high winds.”

The report determined that IMPD officers who deployed tear gas that night had virtually no experience outside of training for such a protest or civil unrest response as the last time police utilized such a riot control agent was 1995.

During the 11 p.m. hour, arrests were being made and officers were being injured as Grenadiers requested to be resupplied with more tear gas and pepper balls.

Before midnight, the east side door of the Indiana Statehouse had been broken into. A little while later on Capitol Avenue, an IndyGo Red Line bus soon stalled crossways in the street as protesters testified they thought it was a police tactic to hem them in.

It was merely a driver stuck trying to turn around to avoid Capitol Avenue that was now gridlocked as IMPD responded to protect the vehicle from the advancing crowd until an IndyGo supervisor could drive it away.

At 11:45 p.m., an officer at Meridian and New York streets requested assistance after spotting men armed with rifles wearing backpacks and masks.

At Market and Illinois, Grenadiers were being given orders to move forward 20 steps at a time to back off the crowd in an attempt to avoid launching tear gas.

“Let’s take the ground they just gave up,” advised a commander.

At that moment, security guards inside TJ Maxx at that intersection advised IMPD that there were looters inside the store.

Within minutes, the looting had spread down the block to the CVS store at Ohio and Illinois Street, where officers needed to secure the intersection before firefighters could respond to a small blaze set at the front door.

It was after midnight when officers started hearing more frequent gunfire downtown and IMPD had essentially lost control of the city’s core.

“It seems like it’s popping off everywhere,” was one commander’s assessment.

Shortly before 1 a.m., a woman kicked in a window of the coffee shop at the Sheraton Hotel on the north spoke of Monument Circle, severing a major artery in her leg.

An IMPD officer with a tourniquet staunched the bleeding until medics could arrive and rush the woman to the hospital.

Ten minutes later, thieves breached Circle Centre where a jewelry store, a cell phone store and footwear store were all heavily looted over the course of the weekend.

“Security is advising some of these subjects are armed,” came a warning from IMPD dispatch.

All along, commanders cautioned officers to not be lured into an ambush.

“Let’s make sure that we remind people to not let them bait us into something,” was the warning.

“Watch our back, guys,” was a call from one officer.

“There were people marching down the street. At the same time, we had video documentation of running up and intentionally shattering windows of banks, setting fires, rolling dumpsters into the middle of the streets, people running down the street firing rifles at our officers and bystanders, and you’re gonna tell me that they shouldn’t have worn additional protective equipment,” said Snyder. “Nonsense.”

After 2 a.m. the T-Mobile store at the corner of Meridian and Washington Street had been looted with drivers waving stolen cell phones out car windows, exclaiming, “Thanks T-Mobile,” as officers rushed inside to put out a small fire.

More gunfire was reported north of the Circle, and more tear gas was deployed at Market and Illinois Street at 3 a.m.

“I’m going to have to pull in another district,” advised a dispatch control operator. “We are out of cars downtown.”

Police were still giving warnings to the crowd to clear the streets due to an unlawful assembly.

“After this has been given for a while,” said one officer, “we will start making arrests.”

“Squad leaders, make sure that you are making those announcements over your PA as you drive around,” advised a control operator. “We need to get those announcements made because that gives us the legal authority to start making arrests simply for being out on the streets right now.”

At 3:19 a.m., a report of an explosion near the corner of Georgia and Capitol Street was the torching of a disabled military veteran’s car in the parking lot of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church as an ambulance was called for a man “that has been beaten up.”

Twelve people stood by outside the Indiana Convention Center across the street watching and filming the flames.

“We have another arrest,” a commander reported from Illinois and Washington Street. “We have a couple entertainers over here.”

3:25 a.m.

“Attention all cars, start making your broadcasts. Start making your broadcasts.”

That’s when the Fed Ex store just off Monument Circle caught fire at a cost of $500,000 in property damage as IMPD deployed more pepper balls just up the block.

Shortly before 4 a.m., police reported a caravan of cars traveled through the intersection of Ohio and Delaware Street firing off gunshots.

“Let’s start trying to find people to arrest,” advised a commander. “The quicker we can make arrests and get them out of here, the better for us.”

Within two hours, the sun rose over downtown Indianapolis, and the first repair crews began arriving to replace broken windows with plywood. Store owners began taking inventory in order to begin filing insurance claims.

“I haven’t talked to a business owner in downtown Indianapolis yet who boarded their buildings up because they were afraid of the police,” said Snyder. “They weren’t complaining that the police were doing too much. They were complaining the opposite, that we weren’t able to do enough. We weren’t being allowed to do enough. Well, who controls that? It was the political structure that was hiding during all of this and now wants to come out and do a politically charged report to cover their backsides. It’s not working.

“Three simple words: where were you? If you’re gonna tell us how we should have done things and how wrong we were, well where were you during those instances? That question has never been answered.

“The biggest issue we face is the issue of deception. We have politicians who have spent an entire last half of the year focusing on nothing but the distractions and distortions to keep everybody’s attention away from their failures and policies.

“It seems like we’re trying to rewrite history and forget exactly what occurred.

“We’re just not interested in the perspectives that were captured in the report, the politically appointed report. We’re interested in the perspectives that were not captured, who they did not talk to and why. So, if we start digging into that, we’ll find that there is whole lot more below the surface here than what anyone wants to talk about. And here’s what’s crazy: everybody knows it. Everyone knows it.”

The commission did speak with Mayor Hogsett and his two top aides who represented the administration in the streets and in the IMPD Command Center that weekend — former Chief of Staff Thomas Cooke and former Deputy Mayor Hampton — both of whom left their jobs at the end of 2020 for the private sector.

Hogsett declined an on-camera interview Monday to respond to the “Final Report of Independent Review Panel.”

Last July, during a walk through downtown Indianapolis as plywood still covered broken windows and anti-police graffiti was still visible, Hogsett said he had watched the first night of the riots on TV at home and spent the next day, Saturday, in his office in a futile attempt to head off a second night of violence by negotiating what he thought was an agreement for the protesters to end their demonstration by 7 p.m.

Within seven hours of that self-imposed deadline, rioters had resumed their rampage through downtown, looted more stores, and two people were murdered.

At midnight on Saturday, IMPD Chief Randal Taylor told reporters he had been in communication with the mayor throughout the second night of rioting.

Taylor also declined an on-camera interview Monday, his spokesperson referring to an interview given by a command officer last week in which it was admitted that the department learned several lessons from its response to the riots.

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears — whose office was faulted for not conferring with IMPD before and during the weekend regarding a strategy for arrests and charges against protesters and rioters and only confirming the language of state statute regarding unlawful assembly — also declined a request for an on-camera interview.

The commission found that IMPD commanders did not have an Incident Action Plan in anticipation of the protests despite violent demonstrations that had broken out in other cities in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers on May 25 and marches that followed the fatal officer-involved shooting of Dreasjon Reed on the north side of Indianapolis earlier that month.

In defense of the officers on the streets those nights, the commission found, “The chaos and destruction cannot completely be laid at the feet of frontline IMPD officers who were unprepared and insufficiently trained.”

Snyder represents those officers.

“Our officers were simply observing, orienting and deciding and then taking action based on what was being presented to them.

“We need to play the tapes, get the tapes. We need to talk to the people that were actually involved.”

CBS4 has requested audio tapes of IMPD communications from May 29-31, 2020 as officers responded to the unrest downtown.

Transcriptions of those recordings as reported above were complied for an IMPD internal report on the riot response and were requested last fall.

That request, which included redacted portions, was fulfilled Thursday afternoon, the day before the independent report was released.

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