Court compels Prosecutor Mears’ office to meet with public

It was the first week of September 2023 when a coalition of religious leaders, concerned citizens, and organizers with the Party for Socialism and Liberation accompanied the family of IMPD victim Gary Harrell to request a meeting with Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears. After rallying outside, they walked into Mears’ office, whose receptionist said he would be down shortly to meet with the group. Mears never showed.

For months, every Tuesday the group tried to meet with Mears to express their concerns and grievances about holding cops such as Douglas Correll responsible for their violence. Every week, the coalition alleged, Mears avoided accountability by hiding behind his landlord, private security guards, dozens of armed cops, and sheriffs and security guards who selectively locked Mears’ office doors during public hours.

In his one public statement on the matter, Mears claimed the “ground rules” of the law prevented him from engaging in a simple dialogue, which, he continued, “everybody for the most part in our community understands.”

Then, last Wednesday, Mears’ office finally sat down to talk with the coalition.

The decision to meet with the coalition was spurred by developments in a civil lawsuit Elder Mmoja Ajabu had filed against Mears and Market Place LLC. After five months of requests to meet, Ajabu and the coalition filed the lawsuit, alleging that Mears and Market Place LLC had consistently violated citizens’ first amendment rights by continually locking the doors to the prosecutor’s office.

Mears endures a series of setbacks in court

The court date was originally set for January 24, 2024. Mears and Market Place LLC, the private building owner that houses the Prosecutor’s office, were subpoenaed. However, mere hours before the proceedings were scheduled to begin, Mears’ legal team filed a petition to quash on the grounds that Prosecutor Mears is not the person responsible for locking and unlocking the doors to his office, and would have no information on the matter, including any knowledge of who was responsible.

Judge Dietrick denied the petition, meaning the subpoena was neither granted nor in process. Nonetheless, Mears did not appear. Dietrick ordered a new court date for February 7 and ordered Mears’ council to find a representative who could speak with the full authority of Mears and his office. The building owner affiliated with East Market Place LLC was also subpoenaed for the new date, although his legal team filed a petition to quash his subpoena due to a technical error in its delivery.

Evidence confirms security and sheriffs intentionally locked Mears’ doors for coalition

On February 7, coalition members were called upon to provide testimony about their attempts to access the Prosecutor’s office during regular business hours, which they found locked.

Their testimony was validated by video footage submitted into evidence. One video shows security guard Ray (who was also subpoenaed, but failed to appear) locking Mears’ doors just before the coalition members entered the building.

Footage from days in which the coalition wasn’t present, however, shows Mears’ doors remained unlocked at the same time. East Market Place LLC denied their employees had anything to do with locking Mears doors. Their claim was invalidated by an audio recording submitted into evidence in which the same security guard boasted about having locked the door.

Mears sent Celita Scott to represent his office. Rather than dispute the facts established, Scott and secretaries from the prosecutor’s office unsuccessfully attempted to show that community members were intimidating to justify the locking of the doors. Scott also pointed to “lack of coverage” for the office on Tuesdays from 12:00 to 1:00 PM necessitating the unlawful closure of the office.

Further, a Sheriff’s deputy testified that on October 3 there, in fact, was a policy specifically instituted to lock the doors in response to the coalition’s weekly attempts to meet.

Scott eventually conceded that she personally authorized staff to lock the doors to the prosecutor’s office if they did not have coverage, or if staff felt uncomfortable—apparently even if this discomfort is decisively unfounded. Prosecutor’s office staff routinely used Scott’s authorization to lock the doors specifically to prevent the coalition from entering their office, and the doors were physically locked on at least two different occasions by East Market Place LLC employees.

Prosecutor’s office pressured to meet with coalition

The hearing concluded with Petitioner Elder Mmoja Ajabu and the Respondent’s legal team being called on to tender a proposed order to the court by February 29. The Court is anticipated to issue its decision by mid-March.

In addition to validating the coalition’s allegations, confirming Mears was indeed intentionally avoiding democratic dialogue with his constituents, and that his office and landlord were complicit in doing so, the coalition were able to secure their long sought after meeting with Mears’ office.

Judge Dietrick strongly recommended the prosecutor’s office meet with coalition, which first happened on February 21 with Mears’ representatives. The provided demands for the prosecutor to respond to in writing, and a follow-up meeting is scheduled for February 28, when the coalition expects to review Mears’ responses.

For those interested in more specific details of the timeline of the case and to verify the facts of the case laid out below visit the case summary here.