IMPD hit with wrongful death lawsuit stemming from 2019 shooting

Crime in Indianapolis

DeShon Downing

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is facing a wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of a man who was shot to death by two officers in early August of 2019.

Richard Waples, who represents the family of DeShon Downing, says the family members are not convinced that two IMPD officers were justified in shooting Downing to death on the side of East 42nd Street.

“The lawsuit is sought by his family because they have tried to obtain enough evidence in the case to determine exactly what happened,” Waples said.

According to IMPD, officers were trying to get the 45-year-old Downing out of the passenger side of a van that was allegedly involved in a drug deal. A struggle ensued, and Downing pulled a gun and pointed it at officers, IMPD said. An investigation by independent prosecutor Mark Hollingsworth concluded that the officers were faced with a deadly force threat and should face no criminal liability in the shooting.

Downing’s family, according to Waples, is not convinced that Downing threatened the officers.

“The driver of the car testified that Mr. Downing did not pull a gun on the officers. The officers said he did,” Waples said.  

The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, calls for access to all evidence in the case. Evidence would include interviews with the officers involved and witnesses. The evidence would also include surveillance video from a nearby home that IMPD has refused to release, Waples said.

“The family in this case wants answers to what happened, deserves answers to what happened,” Waples said. “And it’s sad that they had to file a wrongful death lawsuit in order to get those answers. IMPD should have produced the video to us and allowed us to see exactly what happened.”

The lawsuit is also seeking monetary damages and jury trials against the two officers who shot Downing.

“I mean, if it was a justified shooting, they can stand by those and they ought to reveal the evidence that supports that it is, if it does,” Waples said.

Local civil rights and wrongful death attorney Stephen Wagner said a case like this could be an uphill battle for the plaintiffs.

“The law in this area, rightly or wrongly depending on which side of the fence you’re on, definitely protects the officers from civil liability,” Wagner said.  

Under the rules of discovery, Wagner says the Downing family should gain access to the interviews, video and other evidence involved in the case. In order to win, however, they would have to show clear wrongdoing on the part of the two officers who shot Downing.

“That they violated a clearly established right, did something that no reasonable officer would do,” Wagner explained. “And that is a difficult standard to meet.”

IMPD and the Indianapolis Office of Corporation Counsel declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“Out of respect for the judicial process, we do not comment on pending litigation,” a statement from the office said.

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