The white officer, 43-year-old Sergeant Eric Huxley, has been charged with two felonies after the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department released body camera footage this week. Sgt Huxley has spent 14 years on the police force and has now been charged with official misconduct and battery with moderate bodily injury.
Video footage appears to show that Sgt Huxley stomped on the head of a handcuffed homeless man, 39-year-old Jermaine Vaughn, during an arrest. The officer’s actions are also being investigated by federal authorities.
On 24 September, Mr Vaughn was handcuffed and being forced to the ground when another officer’s body camera appeared to capture the moment when Sgt Huxley moved towards Mr Vaughn and used his left foot to stomp on his head.
Police Chief Randal Taylor said on Tuesday that Sgt Huxley’s actions were “outrageous” and “totally uncalled for”. The department has said that Sgt Huxley has been suspended without pay and that Chief Taylor will recommend that he be removed from the force.
“I’m upset. It hurts me to see any of our officers treat someone the way that you’re going to see here shortly. No excuse for it,” Chief Taylor said referring to the bodycam video of what happened as Mr Vaughn was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct. “I promised this community, and I promised our officers, that I would be transparent. That’s in good times and bad times. This is a bad time.”
In a statement on Wednesday, John Childress, the acting US attorney for Southern Indiana, said: “The United States Attorney’s Office is aware of the incident involving an IMPD officer and Jermaine Vaughn. Our office and the FBI have opened an investigation, and if the investigation reveals prosecutable violations of any federal criminal statutes, the department will take appropriate action.”
Sgt Huxley’s lawyer John Kautzman said his client will prove that his actions weren’t illegal and that he didn’t have criminal intent.
“Over the course of his nearly 15-year career, Sgt Huxley has been an exemplary police officer. He has never before faced criminal charges or any type of department discipline or excessive force allegations,” Mr Kautzman said, according to NBC News.
“He is very sorry about any pain caused to Mr Vaughn as a result of his actions and the negative scrutiny upon his Department and fellow officers,” he added. “This incident resulted from his perception of the need to attempt a trained police technique that unfortunately struck Mr Vaughn in an unintended area of his body.”
Police have said that the other two officers involved in the incident have been put on administrative leave while an internal investigation is conducted.
All three officers’ body cameras were on at the time of the arrest, but the alleged kick to Mr Vaughn’s head didn’t appear on the footage from Sgt Huxley’s camera.
Chief Taylor said previous incidents where the officers’ have used force will be reviewed in the internal investigation as will any incidents that included the use of force that were reviewed by Sgt Huxley when he was supervisor.
In the body camera video of the officer who forced Mr Vaughn to the ground, the man appears to tell an officer “nobody cares what you do anymore” several times. As the officer forces Mr Vaughn to the ground, Sgt Huxley can be seen stomping on Mr Vaughn’s head. Before the end of the video, someone can be heard shouting: “Police brutality”.
An investigator stated in a probable cause affidavit laying out Sgt Huxley’s charges that Mr Vaughn said that he had been homeless for a year and that he was utilising his free speech rights in Monument Circle ahead of his arrest. The affidavit states that in a bodycam video not released to the public, Sgt Huxley can be heard saying: “I accidentally kicked him in his face. I was attempting to put my foot on his shoulder and I accidentally kicked him in his face.”
“We too are troubled by the images within this video,” the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police said, according to WTHR. “We welcome a full and forthright review of the related facts involved. While the camera’s perspective is only one of many ... it is an important perspective nonetheless,” they added.
“Gathering such factors is one of several reasons our organisation was the first to call for such a body-worn camera system to be implemented within the IMPD. Now that we know such a review is underway, we will continue to monitor this matter and await its final determinations.”
Mr Vaughn’s sister Whittney Malone said: “It was very shocking for my mother to call me and say he was on the news and getting his face stomped in by a sergeant.”
Ms Malone told WTHR that the family had been looking for Mr Vaughn for two years.
“You never know what you’re going to do or say until it happens to you or someone you love,” she said.