The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, February 17, 2021 1:00 am

Riot, use-of-force bills advance

Senate moves to empower AG if prosecutors don't act

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – The GOP-led Senate approved three bills Tuesday that would limit local police and prosecutor decision-making on criminal justice matters from use of force to charging crimes.

One measure also would target rioting-related crimes following last summer's protests around Indiana and the nation.

The Senate Corrections and Criminal Law heard and passed two bills Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 200 would allow the attorney general to seek a special prosecutor to file charges in crimes where a local prosecutor has made a policy decision not to.

The legislation was filed after the Marion County prosecutor decided not to prosecute first-time possession of marijuana under an ounce.

But the bill's author, Sen. Mike Young R-Indianapolis, was insistent the bill wasn't about Marion County. He cited examples of so-called “social justice prosecuting” in other areas of the nation. In some areas, prosecutors have declined to prosecute disorderly conduct, trespassing, resisting arrest and shoplifting.

Young said state laws are passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

“If you don't like the law come to the legislature to get it changed,” he said.

The bill wouldn't impact decisions made on individual crimes – only when a prosecutor sets an overall policy.

Both the Indiana Public Defender Council and the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council opposed the bill – a rarity on court bills.

Dave Powell, leader of the prosecutor's group, said the bill attacks the foundation of prosecutorial discretion. He said there are sometimes business decisions being made by prosecutor offices that are underfunded. He gave an example of an office shifting resources from prosecuting driving while suspended charges to focusing on violent crimes instead.

The bill passed committee 5-3 and now moves to the full Senate. LaGrange County Republican Sen. Sue Glick – a former prosecutor – opposed the bill.

The same committee also passed a bill on use of force by police.

Senate Bill 311 originally allowed a police officer to deviate from department use-of-force protocol while making arrests.

“There is no way to make a policy that fits a myriad of deadly force situations police find themselves in. They develop within seconds,” said Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville. “The fact remains they are human.”

But an amendment narrowed the bill significantly. It no longer pertains to arrests. Now the bill says a police department can't punish an officer for deviating from force policy while defending from deadly force if the officer didn't commit a crime.

Young said it essentially ensures officers have the same right to self-defense as every other citizen.

The bill also says officers are not allowed to fire warning shots, except for correctional officers to stop an escape.

Baldwin said some agencies are considering requiring warning shots before deadly force by a firearm can be used and he wants to prevent that.

It passed 8-1 and now goes to the full Senate.

The Indiana Senate also voted 37-8 to approve a bill targeting future riots.

It enhances penalties for rioting and obstruction of traffic and allows civil forfeiture to be used in cases of unlawful assembly. The legislation also allows the chief executive officer of an area – such as a mayor – to establish a curfew and makes it a B misdemeanor to refuse to leave a location in violation of a curfew.

Another provision says those arrested must have a bail hearing in open court before being released – which would mean people are held in jail longer than under current law.

Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said the majority of the people who protested were peaceful and “this bill makes them criminal.”

But Young, the author, fired back.

“If you want to protect our rights to protest peacefully but hold those accountable that break the law, vote yes,” he said.

All area senators supported the measure, which now moves to the House.

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