Thursday, August 26, 2010

Haslar Promotion At IMPD Draws Criticism

I knew something was up this morning when I received an anonymous phone call from a pay phone lamenting the promotion of Lt. Scott Haslar to the East Disrict Commander's position at IMPD. The name didn't immediately strike a bell with me, but after I googled Haslar's name, I recalled the incident the caller complained about. In 1990, Haslar, who is white, shot and killed an unarmed African-American robbery suspect. Haslar mistakenly believed the man was armed when he shot him. "An Indianapolis policeman testified Wednesday that Leonard R. Barnett Jr. moved several feet toward him and was pushed back by the officer before the robbery suspect was shot to death at a Near-Downtown intersection," the Indianapolis Star reported after the shooting. "It was him or me," the Star quoted Haslar as saying during a federal trial on the shooting. The shooting took place after a high speed chase with Barnett which ended in a crash. Barnett suffered a broken leg in the car crash, but Haslar insisted Barnett moved aggressively towards him.

The shooting death led to a firestorm from the City's black community. An internal investigation cleared Haslar of wrongdoing as did a federal criminal grand jury that investigated the shooting. A federal civil rights lawsuit brought against the police department and Haslar ended with a jury verdict in the police officer's favor. Chief Paul Ciesielski was questioned by WTHR about Haslar's promotion today in light of the 1990 shooting death that sparked so much controversy. Here's that report:

IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski said Haslar's exemplary record makes him a natural fit for the promotion. WTHR asked the chief if Haslar's 1990 incident weighed into his decision at all. Ciesielski said no.

Officer Haslar was accused of shooting an unarmed man, Leonard Barnett, in July 1990. Officer Haslar claimed Barnett had a gun but no gun was found at the scene. Haslar was exonerated by several investigations including a Federal Grand Jury which refused to indict him.

Haslar was even awarded a medal of valor for his handling of the incident.

Haslar told Eyewitness News, "You can never get over that. It is something that will always be in the back of my mind. I moved on. I was exonerated by several courts back then, civil trials, FBI investigations and I have gone on to a fairly successful career and that is what I am focusing on now, where I'm going in the future and not the past."

IMPD credits Haslar in part for the substantial drop in crime in the East District compared to one year ago.
Haslar will replace Officer Chad Knecht, who has been promoted to fill a deputy chief position which opened up following the demotions of several high ranking police officers last weekend because of their handling of the DUI fatal accident involving Officer David Bisard.

The 1990 shooting death is not the only incident of controversy in Haslar's past. In 1991, a former police colleague accused Haslar of using excessive force against a woman during an arrest. The Star reported at the time, "A former Indianapolis policewoman who is blowing the whistle on alleged police misconduct has accused 1991 Medal of Valor winner Scott L. Haslar of using excessive force to make an arrest." The Star report continued, "In pretrial testimony for her U.S. District Court lawsuit against the city, Carol Harriman said she saw the policeman ram a woman's head into a wall." In 1993, several black ministers protested the promotion of Haslar to the rank of Sergeant. "Two and half years after the July 9, 1990, shooting, Haslar's name remains a festering reminder of police abuse for some city residents," the Star reported.

Today's announcement came after Mayor Ballard met with a racial mixture of ministers this morning to discuss the tension between police and the community. Haslar's promotion will likely further inflame already tense relations between the city's African-American community and IMPD.


Marycatherine Barton said...

This reminds me of the awarding of a medal of valar to Officer Wayne Sharp for his shooting and killing an unarmed Vernon Powell, accused of shoplifting. When Mayor Steve Goldsmith took office, he immediately kept his campaign promise, and replaced the police chief who gave such reward, and not long after, Vernon's family was paid $500,000 as a settlement for the wrongful shooting.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Oh, you must be talking about this Officer Sharp:

"Officer Wayne Sharp, a member of the Nazi party who had attended Nazi meetings in Illinois and Virginia, and rounded a party cell in his home town, shot and killed a Black shoplifting suspect. In 1981, Sharp had killed a Black burglary suspect and had been briefly suspended. He has been involved in other shooting incidents as well during his 18-year career on the force. It was disclosed that as local leader of the Nazis, he had sent harassing letters to Jewish organizations."

Amazing what you learn by googling.

Downtown Indy said...

Granted, it's been 20 years and evidently he's cleaned up his work ethics, but damn, does some sadistic advisor sit around all day and try to figure out what the worst possible scenario is for every action in all of city government?

Paul K. Ogden said...

Scott Haslar...that name does sound famliar and I don't think because of a case 20 years ago. You sure there isn't something more recent?

Whaddayamean Dean said...

Advance Indiana – Not found in Google – Detective Wayne Sharp tracked down and arrested Neo-Nazi Skinhead Trevor Thompson for shooting a young black girl in a drive-by shooting in 2001 and worked with Jewish Prosecutor Scott Newman to file charges. Ultimately Thompson got a 20 year sentence. In 1981, Officer Sharp was found not to be a member of any political group after a FBI investigation. Sharp had attended political meetings as a student, including some radical ones, but never joined or led any organization. It was Edmund Powell who was shot by Sharp, but Sharp was never suspended in connection with that incident or the political accusations that followed. No Chief lost his job over the incident and Sharp did not get a Medal of Valor or any other medal for the shooting incident. Sharp served 36 years on IPD and then retired as an award winning detective.

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

Thanks for straightening that up Dean. The Internet is often like playing telephone as a kid. By the time the message gets to you it has been completely warped.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Despite a civil jury trial leading to one of Indianapolis's largest awards following a judgment against an officer who fatally shot a burglary suspect, the officer remains on the force. (See Indianapolis chapter for additional details.) Officer Wayne Sharp, who is white, shot and killed Edmund Powell, who was black, in June 1991. Sharp, a veteran officer, claimed the shooting was accidental and that Powell had swung a nail-studded board at him, yet according to at least one witness, Powell was on the ground and had apparently surrendered when he was shot. According to witnesses, Powell allegedly stole something from a department store, and Sharp chased him into an alley with his gun drawn. The Marion County prosecutor brought the case before a grand jury, and it declined to indict Sharp on any criminal charges. Community activists claimed that the shooting was racially motivated; Sharp had killed a black burglary suspect ten years earlier and a grand jury had declined to indict him. At that time, Sharp reportedly was removed from street duty because of his "flirtation" with the National Socialist White People's Party, a neo-Nazi group. Powell's grandmother, Gertrude Jackson, alleging Sharp intentionally shot Powell, filed a civil lawsuit in 1992; the jury found in favor of Jackson and awarded $465,000 to Powell's family. The city had not paid Jackson as of September 1997, and the status of any appeal was unclear. Despite his history, Sharp was still on duty as of mid-1997 and according to the police chief there has received "high accolades and several awards for superior work."

mphill109 said...

Dean, that wouldnt be the same Wayne Sharp that helped led the push to put a headstone on Officer William Wittfields (first African-American Ofc killed in the line of duty) unmarked grave in Crown Hill?

DazedAndConfusedInIndy said...

And just for everyone's information every officer involved shooting where the suspect dies is presented to a grand jury by the prosecutor. Thus goes above and beyond many jurisdictions across the country.

Whaddayamean Dean said...

Thanks Dazed & MPHill - Yes, Detective Sharp (an IPD historian) located the grave of the first black officer killed in the line of duty - this was Officer William Whitfield - shot in June of 1922 and who died in November of 1922 - Whitfield was black, the killer-criminal was white - the Klan controlled Indiana in those days and the murder went un-solved and Whitfield received no honors, no front page coverage, no police funeral and no grave marker - the "Nazi" Sharp organized an effort, raised funds, purchased a grave marker and set up a police funeral in which hundreds participated at Crown Hill Cemetery back in the fall of 1998, thus at last honoring this slain Black policeman 76 years after his murder. Strange behavior indeed for a "Nazi" cop. Sharp took little credit for the deed and gave credit to his fellow officers for contributing funds to the project.

Marycatherine Barton said...

The point I was trying to make, in accord with this report about a white officer who killed a Black unarmed suspect being awarded a medal of valar was that that had occured before (thanks for reminding all that the victim's first name was Edmund, and yes, that was the Wayne Sharp}. During a mayoral debate, candidates Harris and I having called for the then police chief's resignation for agreeing to such a reward.
Goldsmith said that that was what he would do. He did ask me if that would satisfy me, and I told him, yes. Mahern, D. made no response.