Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Black church stages fight to see how white police officer responds; Cop injured...

Police: Officer Baited In Altercation That Injured Him

Public Safety Director: Staged Fight 'Totally Inappropriate'


INDIANAPOLIS -- Relations between the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and some members of the African-American community are still a sore spot in the weeks since the Brandon Johnson incident.

Case in point -- an altercation in which an officer was injured during a presentation to a youth symposium last weekend that officials said was staged, leading to the suspension of a parks manager and animosity among officers, 6News' Jack Rinehart reported.

Sgt. Matthew Grimes was asked to give a presentation to a church audience on July 24 at Municipal Gardens, in the 1800 block of Lafayette Road.

During the presentation, an altercation broke out in the crowd, and Grimes intervened. The officer was thrown to the ground and drew his Taser, ready to stun one of the people involved, police said.

At that point, someone stepped in and told the officer that the incident had been concocted to test the reaction of the officer to the situation, police said. Grimes suffered severe back spasms after the incident and was taken to Methodist Hospital for treatment.

James Harrington, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, said he set up the scenario to test a white officer's reaction to a fight between two black men.

"Their job is to protect and serve, and even though they have families and children, that they don't put any regard to their safety," Harrington said. "I don't think it was dangerous because it was in a controlled environment."

Harrington denied that the officer was injured.

"We are trying to do anything that we can to save the lives of our children," he said. "We have to have live demonstrations of violence carried on by professional actors who are trained to do what they do."

Willard Gupton, a park manager who police said had advance knowledge of the plan, was suspended in the wake of the incident.

"I can basically say we didn't do anything wrong," Gupton said Friday evening. "It was simply just trying to make a teachable moment, to try and teach young people about violence."

Details of the altercation incensed Marion County Public Safety Director Frank Straub, who called the ordeal disturbing and disappointing, indicating that a few activists are trying to bait officers.

"Totally inappropriate … and it's reflective of a very small group of people that won't engage in constructive conversations but want to keep this rhetoric going," Straub said. "We are wrong as a city to allow a single incident to define the city or define the police department."

Straub said Saturday's incident wasn't the only indication that some people are intentionally stirring the pot. There have been multiple incidents of officers being fired upon in recent weeks, he said.

"Stop, act like adults now. You made your point. We got it. We're moving forward, and we're going to make fundamental changes that will make this a better police department," he said. "That was insulting. It was incredibly disrespectful. Somebody got hurt unnecessarily, and more people could have gotten hurt."

The incident further strains a tenuous dynamic in the community, engendering distrust between officers and the community.

"Whoever planned this thing was not thinking. It was stupid and ill-conceived," said Sgt. William Owensby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. "Whoever is behind this should be charged criminally with felony battery on a police officer."

Straub said that he's committed to improving officer response to tense situations but that others have to be willing to help.

"A very small segment of the community has to say, 'OK, they got it, they listened to us. They've been respectful,'" Straub said. "We need to work with the police department to continue to move the ball forward."

Mayor Greg Ballard weighed in on the issue Friday evening.

"It looks like poor judgment initially, but I will have to see. I just don't know until I get all the angles," Ballard said.