An Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer who was captured on video punching a Shortridge High School student is facing criminal charges and could lose his job as a result of his actions.
Robert Lawson, a 43-year-old who has been with the force since 2008, was charged Monday with battery and several other crimes stemming from allegedly false reports he made about the encounter: obstruction of justice, perjury, false informing, and official misconduct.
In reporting the Aug. 29 incident, Lawson said he threw an “open palm hand strike” at a student when he believed the 17-year-old was about to hit him, according to a news release from the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. Lawson also stated that the open-palm strike subdued the student, who was then put in handcuffs “without further force,” according to the probable cause affidavit.
“These statements are believed to be false and contrary to video evidence which appears to show Officer Lawson striking the juvenile with a closed fist and continuing to use force including a knee strike to the juvenile’s abdomen or chest area,” the prosecutor’s office said in a press release.
Lawson was expected to turn himself in, the prosecutor’s office said Monday. Lawson’s attorney, John Kautzman, said in an emailed statement, “We look forward to a full and fair review of ALL the evidence in this case, including the officer’s observations, perceptions and training as it relates to the entirety of this encounter.”
Lawson had been suspended without pay for over two weeks, and IMPD Chief Bryan Roach is recommending his firing to the merit board, a civilian oversight group. Roach previously said the closed-fist punch shown in the video was a “technique which is not taught or reasonable given the facts known to us at this time.”
In a news conference Monday, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said it is likely his office would not have been able to charge Lawson for striking the student without the video.
“We are hopeful that this sends a strong message to the community that we take these allegations very seriously — that these matters will be very thoroughly investigated,” said Ryan Mears, chief trial deputy for the prosecutor’s office. “It does not matter to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office who is the defendant or who is the victim.”
The student’s family has filed a federal civil rights suit against Lawson and the two Indianapolis Public Schools officers earlier this month saying the rights of the students and his family were violated.
“We believe the filing of charges was appropriate under the circumstances,” Terrance Kinnard, the student’s attorney, said in a statement Monday. “We respect and trust in the judicial process and look forward to seeing a just result.”
The student, who has not been identified because he is a minor, was not arrested or detained and is not facing any charges.
In an emailed statement, Indianapolis Public Schools spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black said, “Superintendent Aleesia Johnson and the IPS Board of School Commissioners are supportive of the decision made today by Prosecutor Curry. We will continue to monitor this situation as it is adjudicated. We will also continue to work with everyone in our community to make sure that all of our children are provided a safe and secure learning environment.”
Police were called to the Indianapolis high school after a fight broke out between students, according to the probable cause affidavit. Officers were escorting the involved students out of the building when the altercation happened. Video shows Lawson telling the student’s aunt to leave and asking her, “Do you want to go to jail?” before the boy stepped toward him.
In his report, Lawson said both of the student’s hands were “balled into fists,” but video shows that at least one of the teen’s hands was open, according to the affidavit. Video also showed Lawson striking the student in the face with a “closed fist with a protruding thumb,” then in the stomach area with his knee.
At least three other officers were at the school that day, two of which were with the Indianapolis Public Schools Police Department, according to the probable cause affidavit. One IPS officer, Sgt. Marzetta Jenkins, was outside with Lawson but was standing near the school’s doors. Lawson initially reported that Jenkins saw the student swing his fist first, but Jenkins told detectives that wasn’t true, the affidavit stated.
No other officers have been suspended or charged.