When Indianapolis Police Department officers approached Jason Snider in the early morning hours of May, the 24-year-old from the southwest side of Indianapolis had several things working against him. First of all, his eyes and nose were filled with disabling chemical spray. Snider and a female friend had just exited Tiki Bob's nightclub, only to walk right into the scene of a fight being broken up by IPD officers. Although neither Snider nor his friend was involved in the altercation, some of the spray used by the police to subdue the fight inadvertently drifted their way.
An Indianapolis Police Department officer was good enough to offer them a towel and an apology. But by the time Snider had joined up with other friends to go to a nearby parking garage to retrieve their car, he was still unable to clear his eyes of the chemicals. That was doubly a problem for Snider, whose condition of Stargardt's macular dystrophy already severely impairs his vision. Even in the best of circumstances, Snider is legally blind.
Snider's friends led him to the entrance of the parking garage, where they stopped in front of a vending machine. Their intention was to purchase some bottled water to try to flush out Snider's eyes, but before they could do so, they were interrupted by shouts.
"I have the towel still over my face, and I hear someone yell, 'Get the fuck out of here,'" Snider says. He could not see who had shouted at him. According to both the police and Snider's friends, Snider responded with a similar curse, telling the "motherfucker" that the group was parked in this garage.
"The next thing I knew I was falling back into the Coke machine," Snider says. "Then one guy was holding me, and some others were punching me and kicking me. Then they maced me and I went to my knees."
Snider, who had never been arrested before, soon learned that the men were police officers. He was handcuffed and placed face-first and bleeding on the floor of the parking garage. Snider says one of the officers then stepped up and kicked him in the nose.
Eventually, an ambulance came for Snider. He was locked to a stretcher and taken to Wishard Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. Three staples were placed in his head to close a wound. Then Snider was taken to the Marion County Lockup, where he was held until posting a $10,000 bond on preliminary charges of resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.
A statement by Indianapolis Police Department Officer James Rusk differs in part from Snider's version of the events. In the statement, Rusk says that he and Officer Nick Mitchell were working off-duty employment at the parking garage, Union Station Self Park, on May 10th, when they encountered Snider. (Through an IPD spokesperson, both Rusk and Mitchell declined comment for this article.) In the statement, Rusk says he asked Snider and his group if they had cars parked in the garage, and Snider replied, "Yeah, motherfucker, we're parked here."
Rusk's statement does not say whether he and Mitchell identified themselves as police officers. Snider and other witnesses say they did not. After Snider's response, Rusk says he then walked up to Snider and asked him to repeat himself. Rusk says that Snider shoved him in the chest. "At this time, Mr. Snyder (sic) then backed up and squared up, as if to fight," Rusk wrote. Rusk says that he and Officer Mitchell then grabbed Snider and, when Snider swung his arms, shoved him against a wall and door, causing a cut to his head. Snider was "directed" to the ground, according to Rusk's statement, and sprayed twice in the face with chemical spray because he refused to put his hands behind his back.
Who do you call?
When Officer Rusk's statement was read to Darrell Henderson, one of Snider's friends who witnessed the encounter, Henderson laughed during several portions. "I don't recall much of that happening," he said. Instead, Henderson and another witness and Snider friend, Brooks Cannon, a graduate student at the University of Arkansas, both say that the IPD officers responded immediately and violently to Snider's curse. "The cop just said, 'What did you say to me, boy?', then he ran over and pushed Jason into the vending machine," Henderson says. "Jason still didn't know who it was, so he pushed back, and that was when three or four others (police officers) jumped in and started kicking the shit out of him."
In a sworn statement provided to the Marion County Prosecutor's Office, Cannon agreed with Snider's and Henderson's account of police beating a young man who could not see his attackers. "At the point all of this happened, Jason is doing nothing but putting his hands up, you know, around his face, trying to protect himself because he is being hit with closed fists, he is being kneed, he is being kicked, excessive amounts of pepper spray were used," Cannon said.
This incident occurred in the midst of others involving alleged brutality by Indianapolis Police Department officers. Two IPD officers were arrested last week on charges of battery arising out of an off-duty Broad Ripple fight on April 3, and three more IPD officers were suspended after a WRTV-6 helicopter videotape showed them punching a suspected car thief after a chase in July.
After an uncharacteristically lengthy delay of more than two months, during which time Snider's lawyer Eric Jodka provided the Marion County Prosecutor's Office with sworn statements by witnesses, Prosecutor Carl Brizzi filed three criminal charges against Jason Snider in July. The charges include felony counts of battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting law enforcement and a misdemeanor resisting charge. The charges were bolstered by a new statement by Officer Rusk alleging that he asked Snider to move away from him "because he was too close for Officer Rusk's personal safety" before Rusk "gently" pushed Snider back a few steps.
Through a spokesperson, Brizzi declined comment on the decision to file charges against Snider. But recent Brizzi decisions on allegations of police beatings have him sharing the unwanted spotlight with IPD. Last week, Brizzi declined to file criminal charges against the three IPD officers seen on the WRTV video punching the fleeing car theft suspect. Also, some local criminal defense and civil rights attorneys say the filing of charges against Snider is reminiscent of a familiar unsavory prosecutorial practice. Criminal resisting arrest charges are sometimes filed against persons injured by police officers, but dismissed if the victim—intimidated by the specter of a felony record—agrees to the facts alleged by the police, an agreement that cripples a potential civil rights claim.
Other lawyers say Brizzi's recent decisions are indicative of a failure to properly examine police witnesses' credibility when determining whether to file charges. Indianapolis criminal defense attorney Luther Garcia has four clients, all with no prior criminal history, facing separate charges of resisting arrest or intimidation arising out of verbal challenges to police officers. "I have never seen so many allegations of battery on officers that have as their only evidence the officer's statement," Garcia says. "An officer's word is never called into question by the prosecutor's office, and I think that is part of the problem."
Jason Snider has healed from his injuries, but he admits to being worried about both the felony charges and what may happen the next time he goes out. "It really makes you wonder about who we are trusting to protect us," he says.
"Who do you call for help when four cops are beating you up?"
Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared - ...