Community group sues Prosecutor Mears for violating first amendment

Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears has the reputation of an independent and truly objective elected official. However, his response to a series of weekly peaceful demonstrations attempting to engage with a dialogue about prosecuting IMPD cop Douglas Correll, have led many to not only question that reputation, but challenge it on legal grounds.

On October 10, the same diverse grouping—composed of religious leaders, Harrell’s family, friends, and neighbors, and concerned community members and organizations, including ANSWER Indiana and the Indianapolis Liberation Center—went not to Mears’ office but to the Community Justice Campus.

Many protested outside with yellow signs reading “Rest in Power Gary Harrell,” “IMPD: That Spells Guilty,” and “Defund and Disarm the IMPD.” It soon became evident that they were not there to rally, as several members walked into the Marion County Clerk’s Office to file a lawsuit against the Prosecutor’s Office and Market East Portfolio, LLC, the real-estate acquisitions company that owns and manages the building housing Mears’ office. A representative selected by the ad-hoc group, Rev. Mmoja Ajabu, filed the suit.

Appointed representative files lawsuit after delay and additional fees

Following a Sheriff’s deputy’s instructions, Rev. Ajabu waited for the clerk. After finishing a 15-minute phone call, the clerk informed him that the fees for filing the lawsuit totaled $260. The Sheriff’s office has, since 2017, collected a $28 fee for filing civil suits. The same year, the County Clerk’s office approved a new additional cost. According to the County Clerk’s website, “the county sheriff can collect an additional $28 fee for service of process one time per case, post-judgment.” This is in addition to the other fees required by both offices that are already entirely funded by taxpayer money.

According to Rev. Ajabu, these fees are meant “to deter people from suing government officials,” stating that “they want to use money so poor people can’t get justice…and we’re seeing it on the spot they’ve added on fees.” Another representative present, Pastor Denell Howard, told Indianapolis Liberation that “it’s hard to be poor and Black in America. They can kill you, they can charge you, they can use you as [a] commodity.”

Upon paying the $260, Rev. Ajabu and other members of the community were allowed to take the proper documents over to the Sheriff’s office, who serves the parties being sued.

The lawsuit’s basis and justification for naming the defendants

Rev. Ajabu claims that the landlord at 251 E. Ohio St. listed as Market East Portfolio, LLC, infringed on his first amendment rights by barring him and the community from conducting business with an elected official. The suit further states that the landlord appointed himself governor over a public official. The lawsuit aims to address the mental anguish caused, interfering with his business relationship with the Prosecutor, and argues the landlord didn’t have the authority to keep him from conducting business with the prosecutor.

Cambria York, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition who, along with her organization, has supported the Harrell family since their first protest and vigil on August 6, affirms Rev. Ajabu’s allegations. The change of venue from the Prosecutor’s Office to the Community Justice Campus resulted from increasingly “aggressive” and “disproportionate” responses from Mears, they said. On September 5, when the group first went to Mears’ office, Mears told the receptionist he would be down to meet with the group shortly. Mears never showed, however, and instead sent representatives of his office to explain the various reasons he couldn’t speak with them after he agreed to minutes earlier.

After the peacefully-gathered assembly returned for several consecutive weeks, when they entered 251 E. Ohio St. on October 3, they found Mears’ doors locked. As Noah Leininger reported:

The armed cops and security inside of the “private” building housing the Prosecutor’s Office said the doors were locked because the majority-Black grouping made the Prosecutor’s staff uncomfortable. They were told to leave, no mentions of a meeting was made, and no real reasons were given for a public government building to be closed in the middle of a weekday other than for the supposed feelings of the people who worked there.

By locking his doors, an elected representative made himself inaccessible to a select group of his constituents that day. This was the turning point in the group’s tactics.

The group receives widespread support from passersby after filing

Exiting the building and informing the group of the successful, if unexpectedly costly, filing, Rev. Ajabu reiterated his disdain for the monetary barriers in place. “It is mandatory for people of African descent, citizens, and for me a decorated veteran, to have access to the government,” he said before asking, “because they own a building they say you cannot have access to the government? Where does it say that in the constitution?”

When those who walked by the crowd with yellow signs, many stopped to agree with the slogans on their placards. After one protester explained the lawsuit to one man, they expressed their agreement, noting “if they can prosecute us, let’s prosecute them.”

Mears press interview shows double standards and misleads the public about the “ground rules”

In his statement to the press later that day, Mears’ claimed he must “make sure [we] are following the law. We also want to make sure we get it right. This idea that things will happen overnight is not consistent with what we know about the criminal justice process or the criminal justice system.” It is true that, when it comes to prosecuting police or other state agents for murdering civilians, it does not happen overnight; in fact, it rarely even happens.

However, for the vast majority of the people accused of a crime–working, poor, Black, and other people, the idea that things happen overnight is absolutely consistent with our experience. How many of our community members have been immediately jailed for selling or distributing or possessing small qualities of illicit drugs? We don’t wait for Mears to do anything. They book us immediately and, because of the obstacle of cash bail, remain behind bars even though we are technically “innocent until proven guilty.”

Mears also claimed “I think there are some people that may have a different perspective but the ground rules are pretty clear.” In Leininger’s analysis, he asked exactly what “ground rules” to which Mears was referring, noting that “Indiana does not require a grand jury to return an indictment for someone to be charged with a crime.”

His statement, of course, neglected to mention the locked doors to his office that day to the press.

City used $380,000 in taxpayer money to keep Correll patrolling our streets after 2016 racist attack

Correll, an IMPD officer with a documented history of racist violence, filing false charges, and violating the 4th Amendment of the Constitution, has been on paid leave since killing Harrell at the taxpayers’ expense.

Based on documents from the Office of Corporation Counsel, Indy Star, and Court Documents, Beairshelle Edmé and Ashley Smith of Fox59 found the city paid $380,000 after Correll attacked Joshua Harris, a 23 year-old Black man on July 22, 2016.

After someone shot Harris in the foot, Dexter Smith, Harris’ neighbor in his duplex at 3901 Hillside Ave. asked what happened and, at Harris’ instructions, called 911 to get him medical treatment. Smith was outside when Correll and another officer responded at 2:00 am and witnessed Correll walk past Harris and toward his residence as Harris explained he needed medical attention. As Correll walked by Harris as he begged for help, Correll told him to “get the fuck out of my face.” Both cops went to Harris’ side door and violated the 4th Amendment to the U.S. constitution because Harris was waving his arms and refusing them entry.

At this point, Correll walked back to Harris and punched him twice in the face. He fell to the ground and, as he tried to get back up, Correll grabbed him by the shoulders and kneed Harris in his abdomen, a strike that crushed his spleen against his spine.

Throughout the entire incident, Smith was telling the officers that Harris was the victim and that Smith was the one who called 911. When Emergency Medical Services showed up, they immediately took Harris to Eskenazi hospital where he underwent intensive surgery, as doctors removed his spleen, part of his pancreas, and part of his small intestines. Harris was finally out of the hospital on July 18 although he has continued to need regular medical treatment.

After the event, Correll filed a false report of the incident and the Marion County Prosecutor charged Harris with Resisting Law Enforcement. Two years later, on June 27, 2018, a criminal jury unanimously found Harris not guilty.

With upcoming elections, will Mears’ reputation be challenged in the electoral arena too?

As noted above, Indiana does not require Mears to convene a grand jury to return an indictment before initiating charges. He could have done that immediately and every day since. The reason Mears and other Prosecutor’s turn to grand juries is to buy themselves time and, ultimately, to protect the police.

The protesters weren’t concerned with the election, however, asserting they believed that action in the streets and what the people do after election day matters much more.