MARION COUNTY, Ind. — The Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) is suing the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board (ILETB) for allegedly denying requests for further training for MCSO deputies.
“I don’t think we can have too many well-trained police officers,” said Sheriff Kerry Forestal.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning in the Marion Superior Court. Forestal said he exhausted all efforts to have his deputies trained through the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) prior to pursuing the litigation.
Forestal said the efforts to push for change began when he petitioned the ILETB during a public meeting in February of 2020, continued as he sent a four-page letter to the ILETB Chair in June of 2021, and attended a meeting arranged by the Executive Director of the Indiana Sheriff’s Association in August of 2021.
After that, Forestal said the MCSO learned it would have several minutes to re-present their case in the October meeting of the ILETB. According to the MCSO, two proposals set forth by the sheriff were shot down and the motion was reportedly kicked down the road for possible review at an unknown date.
The MCSO said it is asking that ILETB accept 20-30 Marion County deputies annually for ILEA training and as an alternative, requested for the ILETB to recognize and certify the MCSO Training Academy to provide this training and education to be in accordance with police reform legislation, House Enrolled Act 1006.
Under HEA 1066, mandatory de-escalation training must be provided as a part of pre-basic training and during mandatory in-service training at the ILEA, however, MCSO deputies are not permitted to receive training through the ILEA.
Currently, the MCSO said it is the only sheriff’s department in Indiana that is prohibited from sending deputies to the state’s training academy. Aside from sheriff’s departments, the MCSO said hospital police departments, school corporation police departments, university police departments and even town marshals are given the ability to train at the academy under ILEA.
This stems from a 2007 merger that combined the patrol and investigative responsibilities of the Indianapolis Police Department and Marion County Sheriff’s Department into the then-new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
Following the consolidation, IMPD held the responsibility of responding to 911 calls and investigating crimes, while the MCSO is responsible for court and jail security, sex offender registration and warrant service.
“We have the remaining responsibilities and I want the best trained police officers out there,” said Forestal. “1006 says you have to be trained by Indiana Law Enforcement Academy. I’m not asking to patrol someplace, IMPD can take that responsibility. IMPD can continue to investigate the homicides, but there’s jobs that were clearly left to the sheriff like serving warrants.”
Forestal was co-chair during the discussions going into the merger that ultimately led to changes, including how deputies receive training.
“I was clear that I was intimately involved,” said Forestal, “in that I was in the final three people that made those decisions and I understood exactly what we did.”
When asked why he was now pushing for the the ability to attend ILEA training more than a decade later, Forestal said, “House Bill 1006 made that a deciding factor.”
Prior to the partial merger with IPD in 2007, the MCSO said it routinely sent 30 to 40 recruits through the ILEA Tier 1 course.
He’s concerned about his department being in compliance with the new law that requires use-of-force curriculum for law enforcement officers and wants a judge to oversee the request he claims has been repeatedly pushed back by the ILETB.
“If I’m wrong, have somebody rule that way, but I can’t leave it to where an administrative board is failing to make a proper decision,” said Forestal.
“I think a well-meaning General Assembly and signed by the governor said that we want everybody to a minimal standard blessed by the state of Indiana, and I agree with that,” said Forestal. “I think the state should be positive about people wanting to and not short-cutting the system.”
The MCSO has its own academy, which puts recruits through more than 700 hours of instruction, MCSO said. The academy is Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) accredited and remains the only agency in the state to hold the accreditation, however, Forestal also wants his officers to be able to be trained in accordance with the new law.
In the lawsuit, the MCSO argued that it meets the requirements for this training because it still provides for certain public safety and law enforcement responsibilities in Marion County and refutes the two arguments it alleges the ILETB stated were the reasoning why deputies cannot train at ILEA.
The first argument MCSO said that prevented deputies from training at ILEA is that MCSO deputies are “Special Deputies” excluded from ILEA training. The sheriff’s office argues that although it does have special deputies who are appointed, they are employed solely within the Jail Division and privately by various hospitals and schools.
The second argument MCSO said ILETB is claiming prevents deputies from attending training is that MCSO deputies aren’t eligible for merit protections under state law.
It alleges in the lawsuit that a merit system isn’t needed to receive training under ILEA and that agencies across the state, including hospital police departments, school, university departments and more train, none of which have their own merit boards.
FOX59 reached out to the ILETB for comment on the lawsuit filed Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the Board issued a statement:
“The Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board is aware of the intent by Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal to file a lawsuit against this Board but has not yet received any formal court documents. At this time, it would be inappropriate to discuss these matters publicly until and after the legal process has been exhausted, and a decision has been rendered by the court. This Board would never make any decisions which would have a detrimental impact on public safety.”
The sheriff said he needs deputy sheriffs for 71 new courtrooms opening in early 2022 at the new Community Justice Campus. He also said as as an alternative solution, a member of the ILETB suggested to reduce the level of training needed for deputy sheriffs.
“I know that’s not something I want, and I don’t think that would have been the intent of House Bill 1006,” said Forestal. “I have 71 courts in the new Criminal Justice Campus come January. We protect the judges, the jurors, the people in the trials. We want the best officers in there.”
Forestal referenced that there were more than 170 in the Marion County Jail awaiting trial for murder, and the level of security should not be reduced in the courtroom.