Local attempted murder case highlights state’s red flag law

A Greenwood woman charged with attempted murder last week was the 14th Johnson County resident in the last year and a half to have firearms confiscated and the ability to buy new guns revoked under Indiana’s red flag law.

Linda Bermann, 35, was arrested on May 3, after attempting to shoot a juvenile with a gun that belonged to her late ex-husband.

Bermann was initially arrested on a low-level felony charge of pointing a firearm. The charges were upgraded to attempted murder, a Level 1 felony, after further investigation by the Greenwood Police Department, said Jay Arnold, deputy chief of investigations.

The incident

Greenwood police responded about 9 p.m. May 3 to two calls from two separate juveniles reporting that Bermann tried to shoot one of them with a rifle at a house in the 1700 block of Blue Grass Parkway, on Greenwood’s southside.

The victim told police he was playing video games in a room upstairs when Bermann burst into the room, pointed the rifle at his head and pulled the trigger. The gun jammed and did not fire, according to the probable cause affidavit.

The victim pushed Bermann out of the room as she tried to unjam the gun, locked the door and called 911. Another juvenile who heard the commotion and saw Bermann point the gun at the victim also called 911, according to court documents.

When officers arrived, they demanded Bermann exit the house, which she did without incident. She later told police she put the gun down when she heard the sirens outside, court documents show.

Once detained, Bermann told police at the scene she wanted to kill herself, and she intended to point the gun at the victim. She later told police she wanted to kill herself and the two juveniles because a relative had upset her, and she wanted to make that relative feel guilty, according to court documents.

Police found two firearms inside the house — the rifle and a pistol — both of which were secured and placed into evidence, court documents detail.

Police filed a separate probable cause affidavit with the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office to initiate the red flag law process. Under the red flag law, also known as the Jake Laird Law in Indiana, police may seize guns from a person who is mentally unstable and a danger to themselves or others.

Bermann was a danger to both herself and others, police determined. They filed the documents to retain custody of the firearms and to make sure she cannot purchase others if she is released from jail on bond.

Johnson County Circuit Court Judge Andrew Roesener upheld confiscation of the firearms at a hearing Monday morning. Both Bermann’s defense team and the prosecution agreed the confiscation was justified, court documents show.

The defense requested Bermann be evaluated for competency to stand trial due to her history of mental health issues. She also has a history of alcohol abuse and spent time in rehab last year in Oklahoma following an incident in which she tried to stab a juvenile with a pair of scissors, according to the court documents.

Bermann was taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital for immediate detention and health evaluation prior to being detained at the Johnson County jail, where she is held on $40,000 bond.

Seizing guns

Bermann is the 14th Johnson County resident to have firearms seized without a warrant under the state’s red flag law since January 2020, according to data from the prosecutor’s office.

Police may seize guns with or without a warrant, but those seized without a warrant are subject to a hearing where prosecutors are required to provide clear and convincing evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the person is dangerous, according to the law.

In Johnson County, police are given 48 hours to file a probable cause affidavit with the county prosecutor’s office, said Joe Villanueva, prosecutor. The documents are then filed with the clerk of courts, and a hearing is set within 14 days of its receipt.

Aside from Bermann’s case, 10 others received a hearing on the seizure of their guns, and eight were found to be dangerous by the court, while two were awaiting a decision as of last week, according to data from the prosecutor’s office.

Two cases were dismissed because an affidavit was not filed within the 48-hour window as required by the law, according to the prosecutor’s office. The other case was dismissed at the county-level because the individual was federally charged.

Most local cases involve an attempted suicide or an attempted murder-suicide, such as in Bermann’s case, Villanueva said. The law is only invoked when absolutely necessary for public safety.

“We use it only when necessary and appropriate. My office will fiercely protect an individual’s constitutional right to possess a firearm, and will only seek to infringe upon that right when that individual or someone else might be hurt if nothing is done,” Villanueva said in a statement.

Legal loopholes

Questions about whether the law is strong enough have been raised in the aftermath of the recent FedEx shooting in Indianapolis, which claimed eight lives, including a Greenwood man’s.

In that case, Indianapolis police had confiscated the shooter’s guns after his mother told them of his suicidal ideations. But the shooter, Brandon Scott Hole, who also killed himself during the shooting, did not receive a hearing on the seizure and was not “flagged” as someone who was not allowed to purchase a firearm.

A loophole in the law allows someone to go purchase more guns if they are not flagged by authorities as a danger to society. In Hole’s case, the guns police confiscated were not returned, but he purchased another firearm to carry out the shooting.

After the shooting, Marion County Judge Amy Jones, who oversees the filings of red flag cases in Indianapolis, issued new, temporary guidance this week. Red flag cases will now go straight to her courtroom instead of the prosecutor’s office.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office received criticism for not taking Hole’s confiscation to court. Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said his office did not seek a red flag hearing because the 14-day window didn’t give his office enough time to build a convincing case against Hole.

Another loophole is if someone purchases a gun prior to their hearing on the seizure, which could be up to 16 days after a gun is seized, if police use the full 48 hours to file the probable cause affidavit, and if the court schedules the hearing on the final day of the 14-day window as allowed by state law.

Both Villanueva and Arnold said the loophole could continue to be exploited if it is not addressed by the Indiana General Assembly.

“There is nothing under this law that could prevent the person who we have seized the weapon from from going out and buying another gun in that 14 days,” Arnold said. “We would never be notified if they did that.”

Exploitations of the loophole would be rare if a serious crime such as murder or attempted murder were committed with the gun, as the individual would remain in jail without bond or on a very high bond.

Bermann’s history

The loophole did not apply in Bermann’s case, Arnold said.

Prior to last week, Greenwood police had been called to Bermann’s house once, in November 2020, for a verbal domestic dispute between Bermann and another adult who lives in the home. Though Bermann had guns in the home, those were not part of that incident, so there was no previous cause to confiscate the guns, he said.

“There still must be a connection between the firearm itself and some act by the individual when claiming him or her to be dangerous,” Villanueva said. “For example, if someone is arrested for domestic battery in the home, and there was a firearm securely locked in the safe which had no bearing on the incident, then that firearm is not subject to seizure. In many of our cases the individual is in physical possession of the firearm or has it nearby, and the use of that firearm is either referenced directly or indirectly to another person.”

Bermann’s other brush with the law when she attempted to stab the juvenile in Oklahoma did not result in a criminal charge, Arnold said.

She did not have a license to carry a gun and did not have any restrictions on purchasing a gun prior to last week’s incident. The guns used in the crime were Bermann’s late ex-husband’s, which she retained ownership of following his death, he said.

A relative of Bermann’s had taken the guns away for a period of time last year. Police were not involved with this seizure and believe it happened before she moved to Johnson County, Arnold said.

Police continue to operate under the law as it is written, until the General Assembly takes action, if it takes action. Regardless of the loophole, police will remain vigilant because even a stronger law won’t stop criminals from getting their hands on a gun, Arnold said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.