Friday, November 05, 2010

Piland Cleared By Merit Board Of Using Excessive Force Against Brandon Johnson

The administration of Mayor Greg Ballard has egg on its face this morning after the Police Merit Board by a vote of 6-1 agreed with IMPD Officer Jerry Piland's attorney, John Kautzman, that he did not use excessive force in the arrest of teen-ager Brandon Johnson, who interfered when police attempted to apprehend his younger brother in connection with a neighborhood home invasion that occurred a short time earlier. Only Joe Slash, an African-American appointee to the Board, voted against Piland. The outcome means Officer Piland will be reinstated to his former position and paid back pay from the date of his suspension. IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski had urged the board to back his decision to terminate Piland and testified against him during the hearing, which heard more than 24 hours of testimony. The Star's John Tuohy reports on the decision rendered in the wee hours of the morning:

The Police Merit Board deliberated for just under two hours before casting a 6-1 vote to clear Jerry Piland of wrongdoing.

The vote at 3:55 a.m. after more than 24 hours of testimony generated hugs and backslaps among rank-and-file officers who considered the outcome a referendum on acceptable uses of force. It also sparked a promise of recriminations for the IMPD from black clergy members, who had held up the bloodied, battered image of 15-year-old Brandon Johnson's face as a symbol of callous police conduct and needed change.

The verdict was also a defeat for IMPD leadership's plan to crack down on what they perceive as rogue cops. Public Safety Director Frank Straub and Police Chief Paul Ciesielski said Piland's treatment of Johnson was the type of police aggression they want to weed out.

'I've said it throughout and will say it again," Ciesielski said after the ruling. "Excessive force will not be tolerated. We respect the Merit Board's decision but this was clearly a case of excessive force."

Mayor Greg Ballard also said that his administration would hold the line against police misconduct, despite the ruling.

“I am dismayed and disappointed by the Merit Board’s decision not to uphold the Chief’s recommendation," Ballard said in a statement from his office. "We will continue to raise the standards and reform IMPD so that incidents like this do not happen in the future.”

Ciesielski had recommended Piland's firing after an internal affairs investigation determined that he struck Johnson several times when he was already subdued. Ciesielski said it was the worst beating he'd seen in his 24 years as a police officer. But Piland's attorney, John Kautzman, provided a bevy of experts and witnesses who said Johnson struggled with officers all the way up until he was handcuffed, and then some, and the punches followed police regulations.
Touhy explained Piland's testimony in his defense in an earlier report:

Officer Jerry Piland said he arrived at Brandon Johnson's Eastside neighborhood to see other officers struggling to subdue the youth, who had been protesting his brother's arrest. Piland tried to push Brandon down on the ground, on his belly, and away from another officer's leg.

"It didn't work," Piland said. "He didn't budge."

That's when Piland decided more force was necessary.

"I've got to give him something that's going to change his channel, so to speak," Piland said. "I gave him two knee strikes to his right shoulder blade."

He insisted he did not strike the youth's head with his knee.

"They (the knee strikes) were to accomplish a task, and that was to get him to roll over," he said.

Even if he had struck Brandon's head, Piland said, "it would have been completely justified."

I'm told by people who heard the testimony that Piland's attorney totally out-lawyered the city's attorney in the case with his effective use of witnesses to prove Piland was actually not the police officer who inflicted the injuries on Johnson that were so visible following the incident. That is why this decision is so damaging to IMPD's leadership and the Ballard administration. It appears there was an attempt to scape goat Piland in the incident simply to appease the African-American community regardless of his guilt or innocence. As Tuohy explains:

Merit Board President Jeff Oberlies said the panel largely agreed with argument laid out by Kautzman; that another officer inflicted most of the damage to Brandon's face before Piland even laid an open palm strike on him.

In fact, said Oberlies, Officer David Carney was responsible for the whole thing -- and probably should have been the one disciplined.

"Carney probably made a bad decision to arrest Johnson in the first place," Oberlies said. "From there it escalated to where he had to punch him to knock him down because he said Brandon resisted and things just got worse." . . .
Oberlies said the board was also influenced by testimony form a Wishard Memorial Hospital emergency room doctor who said Brandon's injuries were not as bad as they looked. He suffered no serious injuries or broken bones, the doctor said, and was discharged that day in good condition.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words," Oberlies said. "But in this case, a thousand words that we didn't know about went with the picture."

The decision raises questions about why Carney was not disciplined, even if the merit board cleared Piland of using excessive force. Recall that Officer Piland was off duty at the time of the incident and came to the aid of his fellow officers. A large group of people had gathered as police attempted to apprehend Johnson's younger brother when he rushed in and interfered with that arrest. IMPD foolishly dropped the home invasion charges against Johnson's younger brother under pressure from the African-American community despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt. Indianapolis residents have been plagued by home invasions this year, particularly during the summer months while teen-agers were on summer break.

The timing of this decision could not be worse for the Ballard administration. Public Safety Director Frank Straub is under fire for sitting on a report completed into the investigation of IMPD's handling of the fatal DUI collision involving K-9 Officer David Bisard. Critics in the police department complain Straub is trying to alter the report's contents to remove findings that are damaging to him and Chief Ciesielski. The two summoned two other high-ranking officers to return to IMPD headquarters from the accident scene to discuss a press conference Ciesielski planned to hold later that afternoon as a show of support for Straub. Those two officers were later demoted for failing to take charge of the accident scene. The head of the fatal DUI unit was also removed from his position even though he was not even asked to come to the accident scene and investigate. Responding police officers claimed they saw no sign of Bisard's intoxication.


Marycatherine Barton said...

This decision does not make for a happy day in Indianapolis. Call me still baffled about why Brandon was beaten by IMPD's finest.

Concerned Taxpayer said...

MS. Barton - I know that you know officers better than that.
The entire situation was well under control until this "young man," 6' 200 pounds, tried to entice the crowd to overtake the officers.
Then he resisted the efforts of several officers trying to arrest him. The officers had no choice. They had to regain control of the situation before it turned into a riot.
He was NOT beaten by IMPD. He was subdued during a lawful arrest. The injuries were brought on by HIS actions, not the actions of the police.
If the mayor and Herr DOC-TOR think officers are going to lose a fight and possibly get seriously injured or worse, they better reconsider their opinions. Bowing to public pressure at the expense of law and order is NOT the way to make a city safe.

indyernie said...

MCB what were the IMPD officers to do ....
The kid (6' 200 lbs. and street savvy) isn't a baby. This kids brother was stopped for home invasion...the neighbors were up in arms....Brandon interfered when his brother was being arrested by applying a grip on the arresting officers leg while that LEO attempted to handcuff the brother. Brandon wouldn't let go....what in the hell are LEO's to do ??? Sweet talk the kid?
This situation could have became deadly in a blink of an eye. Brandon's very lucky this didn’t turn tragic.

Indy4U2C said...

I saw Mayor Ballard flanked by Public Safety Director Straub at a press conference denounce the decision of the Merit Board. Funny? I don't remember them in attendance at the Merit Board hearing to hear the evidence!!!

So these two who had political motivations to order the Chief to bring the officer up for termination for POLITICAL reasons, are put in their place. Indiana for some time has recognized that politicians will attempt to destroy the career of a good law enforcement officer because they have political motives. In this case, the Public Safety Director had already had the so-called "concerned clergy" call for him to resign for malfeasance. Herr Straub tried to placate them by "throwing a bone", attempting to destroy a good man's career in exchange for political favor.

Mr. Mayor & Public Safety Director Straub were not in attendance to hear the evidence because EVIDENCE DID NOT MATTER when they were giving a political favor of a man's career to placate the loud-mouth so-called "concerned clergy."

Mr. Mayor, you were a Marine. You lack leadership that a Marine officer should have! You lack moral courage.

Mr. Public Safety Director Straub, you not only lack moral courage and leadership, but you're just a simple man. Perhaps you and Mmoja Ajabu need to get together and talk. At least that militant and violent Black Panther was present for some of the evidence at the hearing to see that you were just placating him by your action.

Downtown Indy said...

Not the least of the officer's concern is that this punk could jump in and grab one of their weapons.

The 'kid' had total control over how he was treated. He chose to get in the mix instead of staying out of it.

None of the so-called 'concerned clergy' has been even slightly concerned about reminding people they need to when an investigation or arrest is in progress you just don't try to intervene.

No, all they want to talk about is the right not to receive excessive force. They always forget abot the reponsibility to stay out of the way of police doing their jobs.

I swear people go looking for ways to become 'victims' sometimes.

Oh, and I am thoroughly disgusted by the Mayor and his crew for slamming the Merit Board publically. That's just wrong, no matter their decision.

These are unpaid appointees doing a difficult job just because they want to give something to the community. And all they get for their contribution is a slap in the face.

No, make that 'public humilation.'

dcrutch said...

If it was Officer David Carney (or whoever) on the scene who was out-of-line (per department procedures), then there is zero prospect of punishment for that officer? If everything was by the book- fine. If everything was not, then doesn't a department that needs a perception of fairness (arguably more than any other) need to "police" their own?