A white Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer is on leave pending an investigation after a viral video shows him punch a black male teenage student in the face during an argument with a parent.
In the 26-second clip, arguing can be heard between police and a woman and others. Off camera, a voice can be heard saying, “You better chill out, bro.” Then, a police officer strikes the unnamed teen in the face, reported to be an Indianapolis Public Schools student, in the face. The incident occurred outside Shortridge High School Thursday.
RTV6 reported that the officer wrote in a report that a mother was about to be arrested for disorderly conduct when he saw the student’s “face was clinched in anger and both hands were balled into a fist,” and he “…moved his right shoulder back and bladed his body,” in a “fighting stance.” So the officer “fearing that the student was about to strike him, threw an open hand palm strike, making contact with the student’s left cheek/neck area to create distance and stun the student to keep from getting hit. The report states the palm strike was successful and the student was knocked around and officers were able to handcuff him without any further incident.”
In screenshots of the video taken by Heavy, it appears Lawson’s hand is clenched in a fist.
Lawson was placed on administrative leave and the incident is being investigated. The names of the woman and at least one and possible two students who may be related to her have not been made public. And a cursory search on myriad social networks has not yet turned up names. But a local media report indicated the woman heard yelling and arguing with police did not want to be named as that could reveal the names of the juveniles involved.
Police said the incident is under investigation.
Indianapolis Public Schools and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department responded to the incident. It’s reported that two city cops and one schools officer were involved.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Video Shows Lawson Strike the Student. The Teen’s Family Member, Apparently an Aunt, Said the Boy Was Punched & Kneed in the Back
The video, posted on Facebook by a user who says the video is not hers, appears to record a portion of an angry exchange between a mother and officers.
In the frenetic scene an officer can be heard telling the woman to leave the school property as another officer begins walking toward her.
“You want to go to jail? You want to go to jail?” one of the officers can be heard yelling. “Let’s go!”
The woman appears to yell back “For what? For what? For protecting my child?”
Seconds later, the statement, “You better chill bro,” uttered by whom is not clear, and then the closed-fist punch by Lawson of a student wearing a red shirt. The force of the blow sends to boy to the ground.
A chaotic scene as the video shakes until the woman can be seen helping the boy up off the pavement and holds on to him yelling out, “No, no! We are trying to leave.”
In a report from RTV6, the woman said she was at the school to pick up her son and his cousin after the boys were “jumped.” She said “she asked about getting their belongings from the school. An IPS officer initially told her she could retrieve their belongings, however, the IMPD officer told her she could not. As she and the boys were leaving, words were exchanged and the officer punched the cousin and kneed him in the back,” she was quoted as saying.
2. Police Were Called by School Officials & Were Reportedly Investigating a Fight
According to local reports, the IMPD said it officers and a schools officer were investigating a fight at the school. The statement did not provide the officer who struck the teen’s name but said he was on leave pending an investigation.
“The involved officer has been placed on administrative leave. We encourage anyone with any additional information or video to come forward, as it will assist with the internal investigation,“ WTHR reported police said.
The same station reported the teen was suspended from school for five days.
“Indianapolis Public Schools requested support from IMPD yesterday at Shortridge High School due to an altercation that took place among students inside the building. The District has confirmed that following that altercation, there was an incident involving an IMPD officer striking an IPS student,” they wrote.
“We are fully engaged in and investigating this matter, while taking every step at the building level and from central office to ensure the safety and well-being of our students.”
3. Schools Superintendent Issues ‘Personal Statement’ As ‘Black Woman & Mother of Black Children’
Then Friday night, schools superintendent Aleesia Johnson posted a “personal statement” written as a black woman and mother of black children.
“As a black woman and a mother of black children, it isn’t possible to watch the video of the incident that occurred yesterday at Shortridge without immediately thinking about the other incidents in our country that occur between white police officers and black people, especially males. Often, I am left feeling a number of emotions—devastation often chief among them.
“Our team is currently working to gather all information available and, at Shortridge, the school community and the district will come together in a number of ways in the coming weeks to support the school-wide culture, with students planning alongside administrators.
“But, even as all of those efforts are underway, we have a district priority around a racial equity mindset for a reason. And while our IPS team investigates and awaits the outcomes of the IMPD investigation, we can’t ignore how the dynamics of race in both our city and our country consistently undergird these situations and leave our community feeling angry, hurt and, in some cases, hopeless.
“I refuse to be hopeless. I look forward to those of us who are a part of the larger TeamIPS community engaging in these challenging conversations in the weeks and months to come. I hope our community will join us.”
4. People Are Unhappy & Say This is No Way to Start a School Year & Some Complained the District Response Was Lacking
“ALL of this needs to STOP! It is too early in the school year for these instances to be occurring! As far as the altercation yesterday, IMPD needs to handle this situation. If that was my child or grandchild, believe me it would be dealt with”
Some on the schools Facebook page commented.
“This is a terrible and passive statement that lacks support and advocacy for the children in your care.”
5. Lawson Has Been on the IMPD Force Since at Least 2009 When he Was Mentioned in an Appeal of a Conviction. He Was Not Accused of Wrongdoing. Activists Are Calling For His Firing
Lawson was honored along with other IMPD officers by the Indianapolis Fire Department with commendations. It’s not clear what the 2016 honor was in reference to.
In 2010, his name came up in reference to a car stop that ended in the arrest of a juvenile on a drug possession charge. In an appellate court case, Lawson was accused of performing an illegal search. The court disagreed and the conviction was upheld.
A media outlet said Black Lives Matter Indianapolis called for Lawson to be fired. That was corrected by Answer Indiana.
“There is no organization called “Indianapolis Black Lives Matter”—the statement calling for Robert Lawson’s firing was a coalition statement signed by Indy10 Black Lives Matter, IMPD Transparency, and Answer Indiana.”
IMPD Transparency outed Lawson and called for his firing.
“Let’s put action behind that anger! Use the following script to call or email Chief Roach to let him know we demand better from those who serve our city!
Chief Roach, I am a concerned citizen of Indianapolis. Over the past few weeks we have seen many instances of police brutality and misconduct from your officers while you have stayed silent. We demand better.
We demand that you make a recommendation to the board to fire Officer Robert Lawson for his brutality against an unarmed juvenile at Shortridge high school yesterday.
We also demand you make the recommendation to the board to fire Officers Jeremy Torres and Jereme Morris for their killing of DeShon Downing.
Our city is not safe with people like them having a gun and a badge and the ability to kill people without consequence.
We demand you hold your officers to a higher standard.
Call or email Chief Bryan Roach