Two Hammond, Ind., police officers captured on video using force during a routine traffic stop last fall are back at work after being “cleared” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the city’s mayor. The only problem is, the FBI’s investigation is still ongoing.
Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr was forced to walk back statements that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had cleared the officers of misconduct for their role in a controversial Sept. 24 traffic stop. Video of the incident, in which two white officers break a car window and use a stun gun on a black man, went viral on the Internet last October.
In late November, McDermott issued a statement that that the FBI had “informed the Hammond Police Department that it has cleared the two officers involved in the Jones arrest to return to active duty. After this most recent communication from the FBI, the Hammond Police Department has placed them back on regular duty.”
Questioned by the media, FBI Special Agent Bob Ramsey refuted McDermott’s claim that his investigation had concluded. “The matter is still under investigation,” he told NWI.com, adding that the federal agency was still “actively gathering information.”
“I immediately contacted Jay Abbott, Special Agent in charge of the State of Indiana,” McDermott said in a Facebook post after learning of the FBI’s denial. “He requested that I clarify statements that were previously made regarding the status of the investigation.”
“Based on my conversation with Agent Abbott, he informed me that this matter is still being assessed by the Civil Rights Division at the US Department of Justice. Until the assessment is complete, there will not be a determination as to whether a ‘formal investigation’ will be initiated.”
The incident in question involves police officers Patrick Vicari and Charles Turner, who pulled over Lisa Mahone, allegedly because she and Jamal Jones, the front seat passenger, were not their wearing seat belts as required by state law. The officers were white and the vehicle’s passengers, including two children, 7 and 14, were black. The stop ended with one of the officers smashing in a window and using a stun gun on Jones.
A federal lawsuit later filed by Mahone and Jones says that Jones told the officers that he was without license because of an insurance ticket and offered instead to write down his information. A police statement alleges that Jones refused to provide his identification, telling them that he wasn’t going to do the officer’s job for them. The officers then claim they saw Jones drop his left hand behind the center console.
“Fearing for officer safety, the first officer ordered the passenger to show his hands and then repeatedly asked him to exit the vehicle,” the police reported. Jones’s lawsuit says he refused to leave the vehicle because “he feared that the officers would hurt him.”
What happened next was recorded by Mahone’s 14-year-old son: Jones nods as an officer tells him to either step out of the car or they would “have to open the door for [him].” An officer shatters the window moments later with a club and stuns Jones with a Taser. According to the lawsuit, Mahone’s 7-year-old daughter was injured by the glass. She can be heard crying in the background of the video.
Mahone says she admitted to not wearing a seatbelt and asked the officers to give her a ticket before the window was shattered, and that she was rushing to the hospital to visit her terminally-ill mother. Her and the children were allowed to leave after being given a citation. Jones was arrested for resisting law enforcement and refusing to aid an officer.
The incident in Hammond is just one of several high-profile cases being widely discussed online and by journalists covering a growing national movement to end what participants call an epidemic of police brutality in the United States—illustrated by the documented asymmetrical targeting of black communities and the all-too-frequent fatal encounters between police and unarmed suspects.