Young mother handcuffed at gunpoint by Carmel Police
Bob Segall/13 Investigates
Carmel - It should have been a routine traffic stop. Instead, Carmel Police surrounded a young mother at gunpoint, ordered her to the ground and handcuffed her before issuing a $165 traffic ticket. Now the city of Carmel says it will not release any video showing what happened.
Justine Allen had just dropped off her 18-month-old daughter and was driving to a doctor's appointment when she found herself following a Carmel Police officer.
Less than five minutes later, Allen was surrounded by police -- with guns aimed directly at her – and ordered to the ground so police could handcuff her and lead her into the back seat of a squad car.
"I just kept asking, ‘What did I do wrong?'" recalls the stay-at-home mom. "I'm terrified of guns so when they pulled guns out, I was just in awe. I couldn't believe this was happening to me."
Allen and police tell different stories to explain what led up to the incident, but both agree $3 worth of broken plastic and metal turned a routine traffic stop into something much different.
Malfunction causes mix-up
An official Carmel Police incident report – created after 13 Investigates began asking questions about the traffic stop – shows the event began while Allen was driving northbound on Rangeline Road near Third Street. Off-duty police officer Brian Martin was driving his marked squad car directly in front of Allen and, according to his report, she was "traveling several feet behind, a distance that was not reasonable or prudent."
"I remember he was looking right at me and he pulled over, so I pulled over next to him and put down my window," Allen said. "He motioned for me to get ahead of him and said ‘go ahead,' so I did, and that's when he began following me."
What Allen didn't realize was the officer was trying to conduct a traffic stop to issue her a citation for following him too closely. Martin had activated the police lights on his squad car to show his intentions.
What the officer didn't realize was his lights didn't work, thanks to a $3 blown fuse that rendered the light bar useless.
Martin was pursuing an unknown driver who was seemingly refusing to obey his order to pull over – and the incident quickly went downhill from there.
"The off-duty officer, not knowing what was going on and why the vehicle was not stopping, conducted what's more of a high-risk stop at that time," explained Jeff Horner, a Carmel Police public information officer. "So he called for back-up, he drew his service weapon and ordered the driver to put her hands up. When we don't know who we're dealing with and we don't what the situation is, that's what happens until they could figure out exactly what's going on."
"Did not make any sense at all"
Sitting in the back of a squad car with no information about why she was being detained, Allen was trying to understand what was happening, as well. Both the officer and his suspect figured out the problem together.
"The officer came over and said 'I thought you were running from me slowly.' Did not make any sense to me at all," Allen said. "Then he said 'Why didn't you pull over when my lights went on?' and I said 'Officer, your lights were never on."'
Because of the blown fuse, Carmel Police decided not to arrest Allen on a felony charge of fleeing police. According to Indiana law, a motorist must stop for a police officer who activates either emergency lights or sirens. Dispatch audio obtained from Carmel Police reveals Martin activated his siren for about one minute before Allen pulled into her doctor's office parking lot.
"I never heard any sirens," said Allen, who admits she often drives while playing very loud music in her car.
But she points out she did stop to see if the police officer had any concerns even before he attempted a formal traffic stop.
"When I did stop, he told me to get in front of him. He should have just pulled me over right then and there and said ‘You are riding me too closely. Here's a ticket.'"
Allen says in-car video from the police squad will show she cooperated fully and that police overreacted.
"Every order they gave me, I did. I didn't fight with them. I didn't raise my voice, I didn't cry or lose my cool because I was so freaked out and had no idea what was happening to me," she said. "There was no need for them to do what they did to me. [Video] will show everything."
Where's the video?
Just one problem.
Police claim Martin's in-squad video camera never record video at all.
"Apparently, the fuse that went out is one of the main fuses that affects the emergency lights, the camera system, some other electronics in the car," said Horner. "There is definitely not video of the officer attempting to stop her."
13 Investigates has learned other squad cars responding to the incident did record video of the traffic stop. WTHR has requested that video, but Carmel city attorney Doug Haney has refused to release it.
Indiana's Access to Open Records Act permits a public agency to withhold records (including video) from public disclosure if the material is created by a police officer in the course of investigating a potential crime. The same law permits an agency to release the records if it chooses to do so, and Horner told both the city attorney's office and WTHR he favored the video being released.
"I tried to explain it should be released because it shows exactly what happened and that our officers responded appropriately," he told investigative reporter Bob Segall.
But officials at Carmel City Hall said releasing the video would be inconsistent with the city's position to never release police squad car video to the media – even in situations in which police have completed their investigation and no criminal charges are pending.
"You may not agree with our policy on how we do things, but that's always been our policy and we're going to stay consistent," said city spokeswoman Nancy Heck. "We only release what the law requires us to release and nothing more."
"I don't trust the cops anymore," said Allen, who believes the city is withholding the video to "cover up" mistakes made during the traffic stop.
Even though Martin apologized to Allen for conducting a high-risk traffic stop, Carmel Police insist there weren't any mistakes to be covered, and no rules or procedures that officers failed to follow.
While officers are required to check their squad cars and other equipment prior to each shift to make sure it is working properly, Martin was off-duty on the day of Allen's traffic stop and, therefore, was not required to conduct an equipment check, according to Horner. A police department mechanic has already replaced the $3 fuse in Martin's squad car, and police officials report the lights and in-car camera are once again working properly.
Allen admits she sometimes drives too closely to cars in front of her, but says that did not happen on the day she was stopped by Carmel Police.
"I specifically remember saying in my head ‘Don't get too close to his car. Don't ride too closely because you're behind a cop,'" she said, adding that she plans to fight the ticket in traffic court. "I feel like I was treated so unfairly that day. I'll definitely say it's something I'm never going to forget."