Officer fired for assault of teen during arrest - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Officer fired for assault of teen during arrest

Updated:
Brandon Johnson was struck several times while being arrested May 16. Brandon Johnson was struck several times while being arrested May 16.
IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski
Public Safety Director Frank Straub Public Safety Director Frank Straub
Officer Jerry Piland was terminated for his actions during the arrest. Officer Jerry Piland was terminated for his actions during the arrest.

Indianapolis - An IMPD officer has been fired for his actions during the arrest of a 15-year-old boy.

Metro Police Chief Paul Ciesielski announced Thursday morning that he terminated the employment of Officer Jerry Piland for his actions during the arrest of Brandon Johnson on May 16. Ciesielski said Piland should have discontinued striking Johnson after two other officers took him into custody.

Officer Piland was off-duty at the time of the incident, but responded to the scene to assist other officers.

"He did what I would hope all of our officers would do, he came to the aid [of the other officers]," said Public Safety Director Frank Straub.

Straub said Piland was not in uniform, did not show a badge, but had his department-issued gun and a marked cruiser at the scene. He said he met with Piland Thursday morning to inform him of the termination.

"I am not going to fire somebody who didn't do anything wrong. The officer we believe had the most culpability is no longer an IMPD officer," Ciesielski said.

READ: Chief Ciesielski's statement

Four other officers in the investigation will return to their street duty. Officer Stacy Lettinga will receive a letter of reprimand for poor judgement in arresting another person at the scene, the other three officers - Officers David Carney and Oliver Clouthier and Sgt. Joshua Shaughnessy - acted within department policy, Ciesielski said.

"The IMPD has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to excessive force," Ciesielski said.

Officials clarified Thursday that Officer Piland was placed on administrative duty during the investigation, along with Officers Carney, Clouthier and Sgt. Shaughnessy. Officer Lettinga was not placed on administrative duty.

Ciesielski said the investigation revealed that Brandon Johnson initially started to leave the scene with a group when commanded by officers, but returned. Officer Carney told him to go home, to which Johnson replied that he was home and wasn't going anywhere. As Carney placed Johnson into custody for his own protection, Johnson yanked his arm away and turned to face the officer.

At that point, Ciesielski said Carney felt he was about to be struck by the taller Johnson, so he struck him with an open palm to the face, knocking the teen to the ground. Johnson grabbed the officer's leg, so Carney grabbed his hair and struck him again with an open palm and twice instructed him to stop resisting.

When Johnson still would not allow Officer Carney to handcuff him, Officer Piland struck the teen with his knee and with an open palm. Officer Clouthier was then able to handcuff Johnson but, Ciesielski said, Piland struck the teen again.

Some of the knee strikes from Piland aimed for the teen's shoulders may have hit his head instead.

The chief said once officers had Johnson in custody, there was no further action necessary to subdue him and that was why Piland was fired.

"Any use of force, such as what Officer Piland did in continuing with palm strikes was inappropriate. Clearly, the line was crossed," said Ciesielski.

Sgt. Shaughnessy, the supervisor on the scene, was not directly involved with the struggle with Johnson, but did present his stun gun to control the crowd.

Ciesielski also added that Officer Clouthier's actions were "exemplary" during the incident.

Officer Lettinga was reprimanded for her arrest of another person, Xavier Lewis, who was verbally objecting to the arrest of Johnson's brother, Vincent. The investigation revealed that person was on his own property while he objected.

The Fraternal Order of Police said after the announcement they plan to fight the officer's firing.

"We're not backing down, we're not stopping. This will go through the courts, if it has to," said FOP President Bill Owensby. "I'm not privy to all the facts in the investigation, but I guarantee you what happened did not warrant termination."

The termination from Ciesielski is only a recommendation, which has to go before a review board to be finalized.

"I am confident that, upon review, the investigation and its findings will stand," said Straub.

The prosecutor's office announced earlier this week that Brandon Johnson would not be charged for his actions.

Straub apologized to the Johnson family and the community and praised the officers who acted appropriately.

"I apologize to Mr. Johnson, to his family and to the community for the actions taken during this incident," he said. "Sometimes, we get things right. Sometimes, we get things wrong."

Statement from Mayor Ballard

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard issued the following statement after Thursday's announcement:

"The internal investigation spearheaded by Director Straub and Chief Ciesielski balanced the real and legitimate concerns of the Indianapolis community with the need to be fair to the officers involved and thorough in its examination of the facts. Public safety can only be job one if the police act within the letter of the law, the guidelines of their training, and our fellow citizens and public safety officers treat each other with mutual respect.

"This incident is an indictment of neither the courage and bravery of our police force, nor the spirit of our neighborhoods. I support the conclusions of the internal investigation and the disciplinary recommendations."

Officer Piland's history

Piland was a three-and-a-half year veteran of the department. His service record included commendations and no reprimands.

Early in his career with IMPD, Piland was on the scene of the pursuit and police action shooting of suspect Brian Reese in July 2008. Fellow officer and friend Jason Fishburn was shot and has life-changing injuries. Piland was one of the first to find Officer Fishburn.

Last November, Piland spoke to Eyewitness News about that incident.

"Jason was just, he was just laying there unconscious, not doing well. You know, barely breathing and we had to take care of him and, uh, get him packaged up so we could get him to the hospital so he could have the best chance he could at living," Piland said.

Piland's problems may not be over. The FBI is running a concurrent investigation to see if Johnson's civil rights were violated.

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