The mayor of Franklin is launching his own inquiry into police department leaders’ actions and inaction following a pursuit in April during which an officer intentionally used his car to strike a fleeing suspect’s vehicle, according to multiple reports.
Mayor Steve Barnett wants to know why the police department’s accounting of the event, spelled out in a police report, conflicts with the Indiana State Police crash report, audio of police communications and the dispatcher’s real-time notes regarding what was happening. He also wants to know why the police chief and deputy chief said they were not aware of the facts of the case and did not immediately convene an internal review to look into the circumstances, as they do after an officer has any accident, per department rules and practices.
“I’m taking it very seriously,” Barnett said.
The accident review board was since called by the chief to review the matter, more than two months later, and only after questions were raised.
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At issue is how the police department polices itself by guaranteeing that standard operating procedures are followed, typical reviews of incidents are conducted and that all officers face the same processes. Standard operating procedures cover everything from undercover narcotics investigations to the use of Tasers, and officers who are found to violate one of the policies could face repercussions, up to and including suspension or termination.
On April 22, a Franklin police officer chased a shoplifting suspect who was fleeing a store in a vehicle. The chase reached speeds of 110 mph in heavily trafficked areas across half of the county, and the officer eventually used a maneuver, referred to as PIT, that involves intentionally contacting the suspect’s car with his patrol vehicle in an effort to stop the pursuit, out of concern for public safety, according to records from multiple agencies.
Not only is that maneuver forbidden by Franklin Police Department rules, but the city’s chief and deputy chief said in June that the maneuver was not used, and that no information suggested that it was used, and they did not know the possibility that it was used, despite the fact that their own internal reports and a recording of communication between the officer and dispatchers from the day indicate that the maneuver was used.
Chief Tim O’Sullivan initially said no one in the police department, including the officers and supervisors who responded that day, had ever brought to his or the deputy chief’s attention the possibility of the maneuver being used, but he wanted to consult with the city attorney.
He said he understood that accountability for how the situation was handled was important, and that he had not taken the proper steps and should have at the time, and was trying to correct the matter.
“We didn’t do anything to do any kind of cover-up, or be dishonest, or try to take care of each other because we’re cops,” O’Sullivan said. “None of that stuff is the case.”
But since then, the chief has learned that Deputy Chief Jim Hoeing was informed the day of the pursuit in a phone call from a supervising officer on the scene of the possibility that the maneuver was used, and that a second officer also had mentioned it to the deputy chief.
When asked why the chief and deputy chief had both denied having any indication that the tactic was used, O’Sullivan said that the deputy chief had simply forgotten. O’Sullivan said that he was never told.
He plans to discuss the matter with the deputy chief, but trusted that the deputy chief had been told, but had just forgot.
But the maneuver was mentioned in two reports and captured in the police radio recordings, and the chief never took note of it in the days and weeks following the incident. As chief, it is his job to manage the department, call for reviews of incidents and make determinations regarding whether policies are being followed.
More than two months after the pursuit that caused damage to three vehicles, including $8,930 to a Franklin police car, and sent the suspect and police officer to the hospital with injuries, O’Sullivan decided after being questioned to send the incident to an internal accident review board. The board typically reviews every accident involving a police car, including minor fender-benders, regardless of if they occur on duty. Those reviews are standard practice, outlined in police department rules and typically occur within a couple weeks of an accident.
Except in this case, which reports indicate involved the prohibited maneuver and which caused back and head injuries and the most expensive damage to a Franklin police car in at least four years, no review was conducted until O’Sullivan was questioned about the incident twice, and conflicting reports were not addressed.
O’Sullivan was adamant that the officer did not use the maneuver and that he was not aware of anyone suggesting that it was used.
“He didn’t PIT,” O’Sullivan said on June 21. He was basing his statement on the information given to him by the deputy chief, he said.
He also said he had not reviewed the state police report from the incident in the first two months following the crash, and that unfortunately he wasn’t aware of the details.
When asked why the state police report and Franklin police report conflicted and whether that was an issue, O’Sullivan said he would have to look into the matter, and talk to everyone involved.
“I don’t know any more about it,” he said.
He also said he did not call the accident review board at the time because there was no accident or crash, but rather a police car was damaged as the result of a pursuit.
Barnett said he plans to question the chief and deputy chief in the coming days to get to the bottom of who knew that the officer may have used the maneuver and what they did with the information. A question is whether, or when, the chief and deputy chief learned that the maneuver, referred to as PIT, or pursuit intervention technique, may have been used, and what steps they took as the enforcers of the department’s rules, training and management.
The mayor then plans to decide what, if any, action needs to be taken if those involved did not take the proper steps.
Barnett said he wasn’t questioning the officer’s decision to protect the public in the midst of a high-speed pursuit in heavy traffic.
“The proper steps should have been taken by the administration,” Barnett said. “That’s my expectation.”
“If he had done this maneuver, even if it is not allowed, the city could have supported the officer for making a split-second decision to save lives,” Barnett said.
“But it should have been reported accurately and processes followed,” Barnett said.
O’Sullivan and Hoeing have denied that the maneuver was used and said they hadn’t been made aware of any information that it was used, even though it is outlined in both in the Indiana State Police crash report following the incident, the audio recording of the communications between the police officer and the dispatchers and the Franklin Police Department report, which includes the dispatcher’s real-time notes of what officers were saying and reporting they were doing as the incident unfolded. The dispatcher noted and confirmed in the report that the officer announced that he was going to use the maneuver.
The suspect in the incident, Brian Hambrick, 32, of Indianapolis, was taken to the hospital by ambulance with a back injury. His jury trial on charges of resisting law enforcement, theft and being a habitual offender, all felonies, and leaving the scene of an accident, a misdemeanor, is scheduled for September.
Barnett plans to speak individually with the deputy chief and chief about what they knew about the incident.
“How did this get by so many people?” Barnett said.
“I’m disappointed to learn this information,” Barnett said. “I pride myself on being transparent. I’ve been mayor for 18 months, and I’ve instilled in all departments that I want complete transparency and expect that of all departments, especially our police department, which is held to a higher standard.”
“There’s never a reason not to report with 100 percent accuracy and follow our procedures,” he said.
As mayor, Barnett appoints the chief and deputy chief, and they serve at his pleasure. City rules allow the mayor to remove them from their posts, but if they are also merit officers, they would return to their rank as police officers. Hoeing is a lieutenant; O’Sullivan is a patrol officer.
Police officers are hired, fired and disciplined by the appointed five-member police merit board, made up of city residents. The chief of police can also impose unpaid suspensions of up to five days without pay.
When officer Jason Hyneman was called to the store on the shoplifting report, he was told by dispatchers that the suspect was fleeing in a car. He gave chase southbound on U.S. 31 to Edinburgh, and speeds reached 110 mph, according to multiple police reports and the audio of the incident. The suspect, who was driving, and a passenger were weaving through heavy traffic, passing cars in the median and at one point were driving southbound in the northbound lanes of U.S. 31 in Edinburgh. The pursuit went onto Interstate 65, and a taxi car got involved in an effort to help police stop the vehicle. The police car and the suspect eventually crashed, at least once, and the suspect was arrested.
Multiple reports indicate that the police officer used what’s known as a PIT maneuver, during which he used his vehicle to make contact with the suspect’s vehicle to cause it to turn sideways and the driver lose control, ending the pursuit. Franklin police officers were previously trained and certified in using the maneuver, but O’Sullivan later had it removed from the department’s policies and it is no longer allowed, O’Sullivan said.
The Franklin Police Department report on the shoplifting incident, pursuit and arrest, written by Hyneman after the incident, outlines three crashes between the police car and the suspect: On U.S. 31 at I-65, the suspect swerved in front of Hyneman in heavy traffic, and he was unable to stop in time and hit the suspect from behind; the suspect was then fishtailing and Hyneman’s vehicle again hit the suspect’s car; and finally, with the suspect driving on three wheels on I-65, the suspect crashed into the police car after a passerby vehicle got involved and tried to pin the suspect against the guardrail. At that point, the officer’s car was in front of the suspect, and Hyneman hit the brakes, ending the pursuit.
That accounting, however, conflicts with the Indiana State Police standard crash report from the day. That report, taken by an Indiana State Police sergeant, says “(Hyneman) stated due to the high risk to public safety and that Vehicle 1 (suspect) was now partially disabled, he used legal intervention striking Vehicle 1 with his police commission and bringing the pursuit to an end.”
“That basically means the officer made contact to stop the pursuit,” said Indiana State Police spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, when asked to explain the term “legal intervention” as it was used in the report. “Some people call it a PIT maneuver.”
A second state police spokesman, Sgt. John Perrine, said that he wasn’t familiar with the specifics of the incident, but his interpretation of the report is that the officer intentionally hit the suspect’s vehicle to stop the pursuit.
Hoeing reviewed the incident for the police department administration, and said he didn’t notice any differences in the reports, saying that anytime you read two reports on an incident, the wording will be different.
“I didn’t notice enough to flag it and for me to go, ‘Wait a minute, something is off here,'” Hoeing said. His understanding of the event matched what Hyneman wrote in his report, and O’Sullivan agreed.
“It’s all semantics, however you want to call it,” Hoeing said.
Hoeing said that legal intervention and PIT are not the same thing, and any action that an officer can legally take can be considered legal intervention. The two most common examples of legal intervention are typically the use of stop sticks or the PIT maneuver, he said. Stop sticks were not used in this incident.
When interviewed later, O’Sullivan said he would be speculating when asked whether he saw the differences in the reports. He said he still believed that any differences could be attributed to two officers using different words, and he didn’t think the officer had done anything wrong, but he didn’t want to speculate on his intent.
In the moment
An audio recording of communications between police officers and dispatchers during the incident includes a moment-by-moment play of what was happening. The recording is property of the police department and available to the chief and deputy chief at anytime.
In it, Hyneman is heard making as many as three references to using PIT.
“So I PIT him from behind so he’d stop. It didn’t happen.”
A few seconds later, the recording includes this comment by Hyneman: “I have to go ahead and PIT him.”
The dispatcher is then heard confirming what police have said: “Clear on PIT,” followed by police reporting a crash to the dispatchers.
At that point, police tell the dispatcher that the suspect had lost one tire, was getting on the interstate while driving on three wheels and was likely going to lose control.
“I’m going to try to PIT him. He’s going to hurt somebody bad,” Hyneman told dispatchers. Three seconds later, another officer reports an accident between Hyneman and the suspect.
Additionally, the dispatchers’ notes, include that Hyneman announced that he was going to PIT the vehicle. The dispatch records are part of the Franklin Police Department report.
When asked if their review of the incident had shown that the officer indicated that he was going to use the maneuver, Hoeing and O’Sullivan initially said they had not listened to the tape of the communications between the officers involved and dispatchers.
What’s a crash?
The accident review board, which is made up of three police officers, is called at the chief’s discretion to review whether accidents involving police vehicles were preventable or not-preventable.
When initially questioned about why the matter wasn’t sent to the board, as are all accidents, the chief and deputy chief said that they didn’t even discuss following that protocol.
“No, it’s not considered an accident,” Hoeing said.
“It was part of a final pursuit,” Hoeing said. “Somebody didn’t run a sign and hit him, it’s not he ran a stoplight and hit somebody,” Hoeing said.
O’Sullivan said that the matter was more of a use-of-force report, rather than a matter for accident review board, because it was a pursuit.
“At the time of that pursuit, I had the pursuit report, he (Hoeing) reviewed the whole packet, it didn’t get sent to accident review board, his vehicle got damaged as a result of that pursuit at the termination of it,” O’Sullivan said. No department rules were violated, and no investigation was conducted, he said.
When asked whether Hoeing and O’Sullivan had a discussion about whether accident review board should be convened, O’Sullivan said “it was never even brought to me for that.”
Department policies say it is the chief’s job to call the review board.
Hoeing clarified that all major incidents are discussed among the chief and deputy chief.
“We discussed it as any major event we have, we always sit down and discuss,” Hoeing said.
“But not as far as convening the board,” O’Sullivan said.
“Yes, that was pretty clear,” Hoeing said.
O’Sullivan said in June that he could have convened the board, and probably should have, but didn’t, because he didn’t view it as a crash because the suspect’s vehicle hit the officer’s vehicle.
But police department records through the years show that when another driver hits a police vehicle, the incident is still considered an accident and the review board is called.
When questioned again in July, O’Sullivan said he had changed his mind and decided to convene the board, which met for the first time that day.
“Information got brought to my attention that I was not privy to before,” O’Sullivan said. “Quite honestly, I could have been, but I didn’t.”
At that point, he said he did not have any evidence that the officer used the maneuver.
“He said on audio something about PIT, but I don’t believe he did a PIT,” O’Sullivan said.
If the officer did use the maneuver in an effort to save lives, it would be allowed, even though the department’s policies no longer allow it, O’Sullivan said. The officer should have sought the permission of a shift supervisor before taking action, if he did the maneuver, he said.
“If he just did it, then that’s something we’re going to have to look into also,” O’Sullivan said. “I honestly didn’t know about that.”
Less than two hours after O’Sullivan was questioned a second time about the incident and his handling of it, the accident review board met to begin reviewing the incident.
It’s findings, dated July 6, include:
- A noted discrepancy between the state crash report and the Franklin police report regarding the first contact between the cars;
- The term “legal intervention” as used in the state police crash report does not mean that a single action or maneuver was used;
- The first contact between the vehicles looks similar to the PIT maneuver, but was caused by the suspect.
- Officer Hyneman told the review board that he did not intend to PIT the suspect. The board asked him if he had stated on his radio that he was going to PIT the car, and he responded, “It’s on record that I did, I don’t remember saying that.”
- An unknown officer, but not Hyneman, said on the radio during the incident “you’re going to have to PIT him,” and that Hyneman immediately reported a crash, so it wouldn’t be likely for Hyneman to be requesting permission to do a maneuver while he was involved in a crash.
“The board concluded that Officer Hyneman acted within the scope of his duties to pursue the suspect. At no time was there any indication from a supervisor or administrator to discontinue the pursuit. The board noted that the suspect was apprehended and that no serious injuries were reported. The board noted that there were three times that the suspect vehicle and Officer Hyneman’s vehicle made contact. The board voted unanimously, by signature, that all three times the contact was a result of the suspect’s actions and therefore considered not-preventable.”
O’Sullivan said he concurred with their findings, even though the damage from the accident looks similar to that of a PIT maneuver being used.
“There’s no denying that the verbiage was used in the audio, and confirmed in the dispatch, but I very much believe my officer,” O’Sullivan said.
O’Sullivan said the only additional steps he plans to take is to talk to the state police sergeant who took the crash report to discuss his findings and report.
‘I wish I would have handled it differently’
When the accident review board is called, its findings are a recommendation to the chief, who generally follows its guidance. If an accident is deemed preventable, O’Sullivan said he suspends an officer’s take-home vehicle privileges for six days on the first offense, 14 days for the second offense in a calendar year and for a longer term for additional accidents.
The chief reports the action to the merit board, and public minutes of those meetings offer multiple examples every year, such as an officer losing his take-home privileges for six days after an off-duty fender-bender that caused $177 in damage.
Whether the accident review board is even called to review an accident is up to the chief, according to the department’s rules, with one exception.
The policy regarding police vehicle usage specifically states that the board will review the circumstances surrounding all police vehicle crashes that result from a pursuit.
Initially, O’Sullivan, who drafts all department policies, said that he could have sent the matter to the board, but choose not to. In a subsequent interview, he said that the department should call an investigative board anytime police are involved in a pursuit and a crash, but he thought he had discretion in whether to convene the board. He later realized his own policy did not give him discretion in terms of calling the board after pursuit crashes.
“I wish I would have handled it differently,” O’Sullivan said.