Looking inside the merit board

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Mary Milz/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - The seven-member civilian merit board seldom gets much attention, until now.

The 6-1 vote clearing IMPD Officer Jerry Piland of wrongdoing came as a relief to Piland and his supporters, but an outrage to those who'd rallied on behalf of 15-year-old Brandon Johnson.

Speaking for the majority, board President Jeff Oberlies said, "It was difficult, because we knew the public response would not be popular, but it was the right thing to do."

It wasn't the right thing though for board member for Joe Slash.

"A picture is worth a thousand words and that presented a picture of excessive force and it demands accountability," Slash said.

Oberlies said he felt the same way, until he sat through 24 hours of testimony.

"That picture does not tell the entire story of what happened. We had to focus on the evidence related to Officer Piland and he came in late to assist," Oberlies said.

While suddenly in the spotlight, the merit board has existed for years, mostly to review new hires and promotions, but increasingly for disciplinary or termination hearings. Two members are chosen by IMPD, four by the public safety director and one by the City-County Council. Four are Republicans, three are Democrats. All serve four-year terms and none of them are paid.

Last month, the board upheld the police chief's recommendation to fire Officer Nhat Nguyen for excessive force. Since 2005, the board has upheld the chief's recommendations a total of three times, but has also overruled him three other times.