The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 31, 2020 10:00 pm

Indiana Tech student loses eye during Saturday's protest

Police offer differing explanation for his injury

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Balin Brake, a 21-year-old Indiana Tech student, said he lost his right eye Saturday after a tear gas canister hit the right side of his head during downtown demonstrations to protest police treatment of blacks.  

Brake spoke by telephone Sunday from his Lutheran Hospital room and said he was standing in the street just off the curb on Clinton Street at the Allen County Courthouse as officers in riot gear approached. He had been separated from two of his friends who later tracked him through a phone app and discovered he was at Lutheran Hospital.

At the protest scene, Brake said two men carried him over to a police car and begged the officer to call medics. 

"He (Brake) saw it (the canister) hit the ground after it hit him," his mother, Rachel Simonis, said Sunday after early morning surgery was performed and his eye was not salvaged. Doctors told her there was "nothing left but the shell of his eye." 

An opthalmologist and plastic surgeon operated on Brake.

Sofia Rosales-Scatena, public information officer for the Fort Wayne Police Department, issued a statement Sunday denying that an officer directly targeted Brake.

"According to our officers on the ground, the protester was still in the area after commands to leave the area were given. Gas was deployed in the area and the protester bent over to pick up the canister to throw it back at officers as many others were trying to do. When he bent over, another canister was deployed in the area and that canister skipped and hit the protester in the eye. There was no deliberate deployment of gas to any persons head," the statement read.

Brake, a weekend editor at a local television station, and his mother heard a different story from his employer who had reporters on scene.

"The owner of (the station) called to see how things were going with Balin. When Balin was struck in the eye, he said a couple of his newscasters saw Balin get hit in the eye. Balin fell to the ground and they (police) left him laying on the ground and two men picked him up and took him to safety, towards the police and a police officer called an ambulance. They just left him laying there in the street," Simonis said. 

Brake said he made no attempt to pick up the canister and throw it back at police. "Absolutely not. I was not wearing gloves. Those canisters are hot as hell. I would not try to pick them up with my bare hands. In fact, one of them hit my shoe and burned my laces off."

In a few weeks, Brake, a Northrop High School graduate who is studying communications with a concentration on journalism and broadcasting, will undergo another operation to repair eye fractures and be fitted for a prosthetic eye, Simonis said. 

A Facebook page "Balin’s medical fundraiser" was set up to help cover medical costs. Simonis said her son is a gentle person who went downtown to stand up for what he believes in. 

Brake said losing his eye was "small collateral for the battle we’re fighting." He believes white privilege is real and "if you’re not going to use it to advocate for your fellow people, then that is just wrong." 

In Brake's reckoning of the events, "police need policing," and when police use tear gas, it should be aimed at the ground and "not at people’s bodies and heads."

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