Chief May Seek Charges In Fake Fight That Injured Officer
Indianapolis Star via YellowBrix
August 03, 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Police Chief Paul Ciesielski may seek criminal charges against people involved in staging a fight at a Westside community meeting that injured an IMPD officer.
“It was more than stupid, what they did,” Ciesielski said. “It was dangerous. A battery of a police officer did occur. I’ll have to see what our options are.”
Mount Vernon Community Missionary Baptist Church official James Harrington, who organized the meeting, and other representatives of the church could not be reached for comment Monday.
Sgt. Matthews Grimes was injured trying to break up the phony fisticuffs at the Municipal Gardens Community Center, 1831 Lafayette Road, on July 24.
Harrington and the center’s manager, Willard Gupton, had invited Grimes to the park to give a talk to residents on improving police-citizen communication.
During Grimes’ presentation, two men in the audience began scuffling, Ciesielski said, in an apparent effort to test how police respond to real events.
“Grimes didn’t know any of this was planned,” Ciesielski said. “It wasn’t a knock-down, drag-out fight, but they were going at it and Matthew went there to intervene.”
The police report did not identify the combatants, who were in their early 20s. Grimes got between them to keep them apart and was knocked to his knees, wrenching his back. The impact also knocked his radio off his shoulder and out of reach.
As Grimes, the only officer there, was reaching for his pepper spray, Harrington intervened and announced that it was all staged.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Ciesielski said. ’There are too many things that can go wrong to count."
If the actors had used fake guns or knives, or if the crowd had gotten involved in the brawl, it easily could have spiraled out of control with tragic results, Ciesielski said.
Columbus Byers, junior basketball president at the park, said Gupton had been suspended.
Jennifer McGilvray, a spokeswoman for Indy Parks and Recreation, would not confirm Gupton’s suspension but said his role in the meeting was under review. The department will be looking at whether Gupton knew beforehand of the staged fight. Byers called Gupton “a good director.”
The Rev. Malachi Walker, who runs a summer camp at his organization, Young Men Inc., on the Northside, said he was flabbergasted when he heard about the incident.
The first priority in demonstrations, he said, should be safety.
“I want to make sure I’m not putting any of my kids in danger,” he said. “I sure don’t want to put a police officer at risk.”
He said he could understand that Harrington was trying to make a point — and perhaps took it a step too far — and was “heartbroken” when he heard it went wrong.
“It sounds like there was a lack of communication, and safety needed a little more attention,” he said.
Tensions between police and the black community have been high since 15-year-old Brandon Johnson alleged excessive force was used against him during an arrest in May. Ciesielski has recommended firing one officer in that incident, but many black leaders think more should be punished.
That was followed by a fiery visit to the city by the Rev. Al Sharpton and a minister-led march on the City-County Building.
Ciesielski said his patrol officers see the discord on their beats.
“They tell us they are being verbally challenged, disrespected more than usual in order to try to get a reaction out of them,” Ciesielski said. “We are getting calls that turn out to be false of officers beating them up. We send a supervisor out and it turns out not to be anything. But we check them all out.”
Ciesielski said he would talk to the Marion County prosecutor’s office to determine whether charges were appropriate in the Municipal Gardens case.
The chief said Grimes, a 17-year veteran who makes hundreds of public appearances a year, was embarrassed to have been lured into the piece of theater.
“Matt loves what he does,” Ciesielski said. “It is unfair to put an officer in that position. If you want to have any open dialogue, then let’s talk and not play these silly games.”