Community lashes out at merit board decision

Pastor Richard Willoughby
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Updated: .

Indianapolis - Community leaders are reacting to a decision by the Civilian Merit Board to allow an IMPD officer to keep his job.

The board ruled 6-1 in favor of keeping Officer Jerry Piland on the Indianapolis Metro Police force. That's despite Chief Paul Ciesielski's wish to terminate him.

Piland was accused of using excessive force in the beating arrest of 15-year-old Brandon Johnson in May 2010. He got the news from his mother when he came home from school Friday.

"I'm not happy at all. I'm kind of scared for my life that Piland got his job back. I'm a little disappointed," he said.

Johnson's mother also spoke to Eyewitness News about the merit board's decision, saying she was "disgusted" by it.

"I feel probably as disfigured as my son's face was when this incident happened," Chandler said.

Johnson's mother says she was expecting the board not to vote for termination.

"I expected it. I did. There wasn't a whole lot of support from people that were leaders, or considered leaders," she said.

"The prosecutor said that neither of Ms. Chandler's sons did anything that rose to the level of being a crime. They were not charged," said Mmoja Ajabu, the family's spiritual adviser. "So, in essence, what you're looking at is this system justifying beating a child who didn't commit a crime."

She feels that IMPD leadership has not been supportive, and she believes that it was a racial issue.

"Just some of the names my son was being called as he was being assaulted," she said.

Chandler said there was a lot that didn't come out in the testimony at the hearing, including the names her son was called when he was assaulted.

"There was a lot of stuff that didn't come out that should have," she said.

Johnson's mother had a message for the merit board that gave Piland his job back.

"I hope injustice doesn't knock at their door," Chandler said. "I hope their children are safe at night and feel safe around the police."

Read the original arrest report here.

Pastor Richard Willoughby, Promised Land Christian Church, says the ruling is indicative of the "good old boy" system at work.

Willoughby said the officers who testified at the hearing adjusted their stories to protect Officer Piland. The pastor is calling for change within the police department.

Willoughby believes a culture has been created where officers are afraid to tell the truth for fear of retaliation. He thinks this case is a perfect example of why that needs to change.

"I was hurt. I felt like I wasted a whole lot of time thinking that we was gonna get a little justice today. I was really hurt, and based on the testimony that I heard for 15 and a half hours, I really see now that the police officers see themselves as a family versus part of the community. And it's almost like a community versus the police officers thing going on," he said.

The case captured national attention with a visit from the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Congressman Andre Carson released this statement:

"As a leader and concerned citizen in our community, I am deeply troubled by this morning's decision by the police merit board, which I fear will further erode an already frayed relationship between IMPD and the Indianapolis community.

"We cannot have safer streets if our citizens do not trust the very people who are sworn to protect and serve them. As a former law enforcement officer, I know the boundaries that officers must work within in order to defuse situations. My chief concern with this case is the message it sends about that fine line between appropriate force and excessive force. Does this ruling signal that restraint should not be a chief consideration when the police engage members of the public? That's a disturbing question that must be answered after this morning's decision.

"Mayor Ballard, Chief Ciesielski and Public Safety Director Frank Straub must ramp up their work with IMPD and members of the community to ensure that the circumstances surrounding the Brandon Johnson case are not repeated ever again.

"Residents of Indianapolis have a right to be upset. My hope is that we express our concerns in a strong but peaceful way, with a focus on solving - not escalating - the problems before us. Our best hope in moving our city forward is to work together with all levels of leadership within IMPD, local government and the community."

Tanya Bell, President and C.E.O. of Indiana Black Expo, Inc., issued the following statement:

"I am displeased with the Merit Board's decision not to uphold Chief Ciesielski's decision to terminate Officer Piland. Police officers do not have a license to use force by any means, regardless of the circumstances, and justice demands more restrictions on the rights of police officers. I hope today's ruling does not cause us to take two steps backwards in our efforts to establish better police and community relations in this city."

Dr. Stephen J. Clay, President of the Baptist Minister's Alliance, issued this statement:

"The Baptist Minister's Alliance and other religious and civic community leaders are sickened by the reprehensible and ridiculous decision handed down by the Merit Board under the cover of darkness early this morning. The action taken by the IMPD Merit Board in the Brandon Johnson case is the headstone on the grave of trust for IMPD with many in our community.

We believe that this unprecedented 'production of shame,' much like a movie made for Hollywood, was constructed with this end in mind. There are no real surprises in this production, just more victims and increased polarization in our community.

Until we have a Mayor that cares as much about Public Safety as he does about Economic Development we can brace ourselves for more of the same. If Mayor Ballard is disappointed with the determination made by the Merit Board and if he is not a co-producer in this "production of shame," then give us some substantial leadership.

We have a police department where the morale has no heart-beat and a Public Safety Director whose management style is more polarizing that productive.

This recent decision by the IMPD Merit Board sends a clear signal to police officers that it's okay to use excessive force and even deadly force on our youth. The reward for excessive force and police misconduct is that the Merit Board will determine that officer's actions will be sustained, back pay will be reinstated and they can return to duty ASAP!

There are some in this city that will contend that this is primarily about race. While race is a factor in this matter, we believe the larger issue is about a system and a process that is corrupt and has been since its construction.

Finally, we must caution the family of the late Eric Wells and other families victimized by the poor judgment of Officer David Bisard to brace yourselves and get ready to have your grief and injuries compounded by a corrupt system that is designed to exonerate its own.

No Justice, No Peace!"