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Wagner Reese Settles Civil Rights Excessive Force Case Against IMPD

Steve Wagner

Brandon Johnson was brutally beaten by three IMPD officers on May 16, 2010 while a supervisor stood by and watched. Following an internal affairs investigation, former IMPD Chief Paul Ciesielski recommended discipline for some of the officers involved, including the termination of Officer Jerry Piland. Piland, who lived nearby and came to the scene even though he was off duty, drove his knee into the left side of Brandon’s face multiple times even after Brandon was already in handcuffs. Former Public Safety Director Frank Straub also issued Brandon a public apology.

Despite the Chief’s recommendation, the political appointees on the Civilian Merit Board later cleared Piland of any wrongdoing due to perceived factual disputes about whether Brandon was struck before or after he was in handcuffs. We have serious questions about whether the Merit Board heard all of the relevant evidence, including admissions from the officers made just minutes after the beating. Regardless, when Chief Ciesielski said this was one of the worst cases of excessive force he’s seen in 23 years, and the Merit Board still refused to discipline Officer Piland, something is wrong with the system.

Fortunately, our laws provide two means—criminal and civil—to protect and enforce an individual’s constitutional rights. Although the officers who beat Brandon did not face criminal charges, they did have to answer to a civil claim for damages in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. This important statute gives every citizen the right to have a jury of peers decide whether the police officers engaged in misconduct. Recently, Brandon reached a settlement of his lawsuit against the City of Indianapolis and the officers involved. We believe the settlement represents a fair outcome for all parties. To Brandon, the settlement also represents an acknowledgment that the police were wrong.

Brandon is currently finishing his junior year in high school and is on the Dean’s List. He is more than ready to put the last three years behind him— the media scrutiny, the physical injuries, and the 50 visits to a counselor.

For more information on this case, please visit Fox59 and Indianapolis Star.


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