Activism Courts Police Race

Women in Viral Video Sue Indianapolis Police for Excessive Use of Force

Two women have filed an excessive force lawsuit against four Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers who were captured on video using batons and pepper balls to subdue them at a protest against police violence on May 31.

The federal lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana on behalf of Ivoré Westfield and Rachel Harding on Friday. Three IMPD officers and one sergeant, all unnamed and referred to as “John Doe,” are listed as the defendants.

According to the lawsuit, Harding was part of the Black Lives Matter demonstration and Westfield was there to photograph the event. They hadn’t met before that night, but Westfield asked Harding for a ride after learning that a city-wide curfew had gone into effect and she would not be able to get home.

The women were walking to Harding’s car when they were arrested at approximately 8:45 PM. The lawsuit states that both women were “passive and cooperative” because they knew they had violated curfew, but the officers were aggressive.

Video of the incident shows officers firing pepper balls at Westfield, who is Black, after one officer yelled “hit her.” Two officers then beat Westfield with batons until she fell, at which time an officer pinned her face-down on the sidewalk with a baton at the back of her neck.

A white woman, Harding, is shown yelling nearby: “Why her? Why her?” The video then turns to show an officer rush Harding, shouting “back up,” before shoving her to the ground.

The video, which was shot by a WISH-TV report and posted on Facebook, has since gone viral online alongside other videos of police violence against protestors.

Harding and Westfield were taken to the Marion County Jail with a group of arrested protestors. The IMPD wanted to charge them with violating the curfew order, a misdemeanor, and Westfield with felony battery against a public safety official and resisting law enforcement. The Marion County prosecutor declined to file charges.

The IMPD is one of many departments across the country being sued for violence against protestors. Similar excessive force lawsuits have been filed in Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, and Richmond, among others.

“[The police’s] actions, while unconstitutional in any context, are even more pernicious here because the use of this dangerously excessive force specifically targeted peaceful demonstrators who assembled to protest police brutality, particularly law enforcement violence that disproportionally targets Black and Brown people,” said Mark Silverstein, the Legal Director of ACLU Chicago, who is suing the city of Denver on behalf of Black Lives Matter.

Westfield and Harding are suing IMPD on two counts of excessive force and one count of failure to intervene, which identifies “Sargent Doe 1” as failing to stop the other three officers from using excessive force. The women are seeking actual and compensatory damages, punitive damage, reasonable attorney’s fees, and litigation costs and expenses.

Sources: The Indianapolis Star 6/30/2020; ABC News 6/29/2020; The Indy Channel 6/29/2020; CBS News 6/23/2020

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