Yesterday two people were killed in Indianapolis when a van being followed by an IMPD officer ran a red light, struck an SUV, and then slammed into an Indygo bus. Initial reports from the police stressed that the van was not being pursued by police. Our sources tell us that was not what happened, and, in fact, the IMPD officer was chasing the van at high speeds in the middle of the day in downtown Indianapolis. The officer involved was none other than Ronald Shelnutt, an officer whose name should be well known to Indianapolis citizens.
While it is too early to know for sure what happened yesterday, Shelnutt’s involvement certainly raises concerns. He was the same officer who shot and killed stockbroker John Leaf on May 5, 2001 in John Leaf’s own bedroom. I personally handled that case for the Leaf family, and it was vigorously litigated for over 4 years. In January of 2006 the taxpayers of Marion County paid what was believed to be the largest voluntary settlement by the city or county in an civil rights claim with payments totalling $1,175,000. During the course of that case we discovered a litany of citizen complaints against Shelnutt, both before and after the Leaf shooting. In fact, in 2005 Shelnutt was involved in another high speed chase on Michigan Road which ended in two deaths. A wrongful death lawsuit arising out of that incident remains pending in federal court. Moreover, Shelnutt was sued for excessive force in two other cases where he allegedly turned his police dog loose on subjects after they surrendered. Those cases were settled for confidential amounts.
The Marion County Sheriff Department should have fired Ronald Shelnutt a long time ago. They didn’t have the guts to do it, and neither has the IMPD since the merger. I understand that Shelnutt was reassigned to spotter duty in a police helicopter at one time (where he presumably could do little harm), but unfortunately for the citizens of Indianapolis, he was allowed to return to road patrol. More civil rights lawsuits are certainly likely to follow. Let’s hope this most recent tragedy was nothing more than a coincidence. Stay tuned.