Recent cases show IMPD bodycams aren’t addressing epidemic of police violence

Indianapolis residents attend the first protest demanding justice for Herman Whitfield III. Photo: Richie Griffin

by Elijah Wenger

Four weeks after police officers shot him three times as he sat in a parked car at his grandmother’s house, Anthony Maclin announced his intention to file a civil suit against the city of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for the suffering they forced him to endure. Surrounded by his grandmother, sister, and parents, Maclin and his attorneys told the press they want officers Carl Chandler, Lucas Riley, and Alexander Gregory–who continue to receive pay and benefits while on administrative leave–fired and investigated for criminal charges.

What Maclin describes as the “fight for my life” started in the early morning hours of December 31, 2022 as he slept in a rental car he parked in his grandmother’s driveway. His grandmother, Vicki Driver, called 911 for help because she couldn’t recognize the car or confirm who was in it from her window.

In the limited footage released by the IMPD after Maclin’s press conference, Driver is clearly heard telling the 911 dispatcher she wasn’t sure who was in the car. “I don’t want to see who’s out there. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s one of my kids, I don’t know,” she said.

When officers arrived and approached the car window, they found Maclin asleep and, among the other items in the car, noticed a gun in the vehicle. The IMPD’s press release issued 18 hours later stated the cops “were able to confirm the involved person in the car woke up and was moving around in the car” and that he “looked towards the officers and moved his arm towards the officers.” At no point in the released video–edited by the police themselves–do officers say Maclin was reaching for the gun that he, like almost 50 percent of adults in the state of Indiana, owned.

As soon as he awoke, the cops fired over 30 bullets at him, hospitalizing him for 17 days and forcing him to undergo six surgeries. The 24-year-old small business owner will be out of work for several months as he fights for his life.

IMPD and city keep tight grips on bodycam footage

While the IMPD claimed it was “not clear” if Maclin’s gun was in his hand, attorney Stephen Wagner said ”the family has seen the body cam footage from the officers and it is not inconclusive. It shows what Anthony remembers and that is he never grabbed the handgun that he kept in the car.” Maclin and his attorneys are still, three months later, calling for the release of the full and unedited footage.

Indianapolis’ bodycam program started in August 2020, three months after the IMPD murdered three people in just eight hours: Dreasjon Reed, McHale Rose, and Ashlynn Lisby. Bodycams, like police trainings and implicit bias programs, are go-to reforms the state offers whenever outrage against police terror erupts into protests and rebellions. Research on the effectiveness of bodycams in either decreasing police brutality or holding the cops accountable is, at best, inconclusive. In a 2019 article published in Criminology and Public Policy, researchers analyzed 70 different studies on the use of police body cams for, among other things, helping hold police accountable for their crimes or reducing their brutality. “It may be fair to say,” the authors conclude, “that BWCs [Body-Worn-Cameras] have not produced dramatic changes in police behavior, for better or worse.”

Mitigating factors include whether or not the cops can turn the cameras on or off and, more pertinent to Indianapolis, what footage the IMPD releases–or refuses to–and how long it takes them to do so. Moreover, as Jake Watkins told ANSWER Indiana, releasing edited footage reinforces the police’s own narrative and produces further distortions. “They serve as propaganda for the IMPD,” said Watkins, a member of the Communist Party of Indiana. While explicit that he isn’t opposed to bodycams in general, Watkins maintains that instead of increasing IMPD’s accountability “it amounted to a big bump in their budget.”

Chief Randal Taylor regularly defends their policy of releasing whatever they want, whenever they want, and in whatever distorted form they want because, Taylor claims, releasing unedited footage would taint investigations.

When the IMPD does release footage, they do so on their own timeline and they edit them, often with audio narration, after final department approval. For example, in IMPD’s version of their assault on Maclin, an entire segment is obviously trying to highlight Maclin’s arm movements as he’s awakened by gunshots.

The blame  however, is not all on the IMPD. The City-County Council can make the IMPD release videos. Taylor said as much to their Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee. “You have the ability to have a city ordinance that would dictate how quickly those come out,” he told them.

Neither the committee nor the larger Council responded to Taylor’s observation. This doesn’t surprise Richie Griffin, a worker, photographer, and organizer in Indianapolis. “Accountability won’t come from the IMPD, or the city of Indianapolis,” he said in an interview. “It must be demanded and won by all of us.”

The fact that the IMPD hasn’t released the footagendoesn’t bode well for their narrative, especially in light of another ongoing case.

Why transparency is too much for cops

On April 25, 2022, Herman Whitfield III, a 39-year-old Black man experienced a mental health crisis at his parent’s home, prompting his mother to call an ambulance for the medical care he needed. Instead of an ambulance, six IMPD officers arrived, chased Herman III down, and murdered him in his parents’ living room while they watched.

The cops first claimed Whitfield III “moved quickly towards an officer” who then tasered Whitfield because he continued “resisting” arrest. They “subdued” him but didn’t mention in what manner or for how long. They only admitted that, by the time the medics arrived to administer CPR, he was already dead.

It was two months later that the IMPD released a heavily edited 14-minute video of the bodycam footage, which included the police’s narration and text. The Whitfield family had to take the IMPD to court in November 2022 to access the full footage.

The Indianapolis government stepped in, however, and filed a suit to delay its release citing an “ongoing criminal investigation.” In late December 2022, a federal judge ordered the IMPD to release the full video by January 3, 2023.

The full video completely contradicts the cops’ narrative, showing the routine lies they tell to protect themselves and prevent any semblance of justice. Herman III was running away from the six cops, not “lunging” toward them. He wasn’t attacking the cops, the cops were attacking him. The cops were not in any way threatened or confronted by Herman III but still tased him, double-handcuffed him, threw him face-down, and kept pressure on his chest, even as he cried out “I can’t breathe.”

After screaming that phrase three times, he stopped moving or breathing completely. Even at that point, the cops said “he is okay.” The cops and paramedics waited five minutes after his last breath before rolling him over to check his pulse. The police, who shouldn’t have been present in the first place, electrocuted and suffocated him to death.

Whitfield’s parents bravely release footage, shining a spotlight on IMPD’s human rights abuses

After murdering their son, the police refused to allow Gladys and Herman Jr. Whitfield to accompany him to the hospital, holding them hostage in their own home. In a public’s statement, the Whitfield’s bravely expose how they “managed to escape our home by backing out of our garage, while the police chased us as we left our driveway.” When they finally arrived, the cops wouldn’t let them view their son. They didn’t back down, and after several hours finally saw their son–under the watch and threat of the IMPD.

Given the power of the police and their threatening actions toward his parents, the Whitfield family bravely released the full bodycam footage to the public to shine a spotlight on what are routine acts of police terror in Indianapolis.

As Watkins reminds us, bodycams are valuable. They help educate the public. They provide yet more evidence of police violating our basic human rights and lying about it. They show millions of Americans–especially those outside of the poorest and most oppressed communities–that, despite committing the most brutal acts against Black, Brown, and other poor and working-class people on video, the cops still walk away completely free, often keeping their jobs, pensions, benefits, etc.

The people of Indianapolis need all the support and solidarity we can get as we continue fighting to eliminate police violence. What Wildstyle Paschall calls the “IMPD’s reign of terror on the Black community” isn’t new. Paschall told ANSWER Indiana that, for many, it “begins in 1987 with the death of Michael Taylor,” who was “shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of an Indianapolis police cruiser. But the legacy extends much further back.” Side by side, these events demonstrate that “policing in Indianapolis has stayed the name despite consolidations, reforms, and empty promises.”

Justice for Herman Whitfield III

ANSWER Indiana, the Indiana Liberation Center, the CP of Indiana, and others supporter the first protest for justice for Herman III on January 16 this year.

Griffin, who helped organize and spoke at the that protest, thinks a key element in winning justice is bringing residents together to fight. “It is so important that we all as human beings come together in unity,” he said. Having spent 13 years in leading roles of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union, Local 372A, ranging from President and Shop Steward to Vice President and Business Agent, Griffin knows the necessary challenges that requires.

We will continue to fight tooth and nail in every venue of struggle for all victims of police terror. If you want to fight, join us!