'Justice for Glenn Rightsell' rallies push, but ISP has no plans to add dash cams
INDEN, Ind. – Jake Gaddis didn’t know Glenn Rightsell.
The video that surfaced from the night Rightsell died – one shot Dec. 28 by a neighbor that showed the Linden masonry business owner shuffling toward police officers on his knees, hands over his head, minutes after being shot along the side of U.S. 231 by Indiana State Police Trooper Daniel Organ – was Gaddis’ introduction.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Gaddis said.
Gaddis, a father of two who works at Buffalo Wild Wings in Crawfordsville, has helped organize a series of rallies, including one that was scheduled for much of the day Saturday outside the Montgomery County Courthouse in downtown Crawfordsville, under the name People for Peaceful Gatherings: Justice for Glenn Rightsell. Gaddis said he and others will keep at it as an Indiana State Police investigation lingers into a third week about why a trooper shot a 56-year-old man, who family members say was there to get his daughter’s broken-down Chevy Tahoe started, again.
“I mean, nobody has all the answers right now,” Gaddis said. “But that video that was shot is pretty compelling, in my view. But what’s going on? Before that, I mean. … It just doesn’t add up, how a guy would go from fixing a car to suddenly wanting to grab a gun and shoot a cop. Something’s missing.”
Among the signs carried at a recent Justice for Glenn Rightsell rally, one simply read: “Dash cams! Body cams!” That, Gaddis says he’s convinced, is what’s missing in this case.
“If they have a job that can use lethal force – and they do have a job that can use lethal force – we should have that recorded so we know if enough was done to meet protocol and what should have happened,” Gaddis said.
Trooper Organ’s state patrol car had no dashboard camera to gather video evidence when he rolled up on U.S. 231, just south of Montgomery County Road 550 North and near North Montgomery High School, at 6:35 p.m. on that Friday night after Christmas. Organ was not wearing a body camera.
So, the account of Organ, who has been with ISP for a little more than a year – that he noticed a gun on Rightsell’s waist, that Rightsell “failed to comply with the directions and allegedly grabbed the gun on his waist,” that Organ fired his sidearm at that point – has been the official statement until an Indiana State Police investigation goes to Montgomery County Prosecutor Joe Buser. As of Friday, a day before another Justice for Glenn Rightsell rally, that hadn’t happened.
HOW MANY DASH CAMS?
In Indiana State Police’s Lafayette district, which includes Tippecanoe County and the seven surrounding counties, two of 27 road troopers have in-car cameras, according to Capt. David Bursten, ISP’s chief public information officer. That’s 7 percent of the troopers on patrol.
Statewide, 73 ISP patrol cars – or 19 percent of a fleet of 471 on the road statewide – have dash cams, Bursten said. Placement of those, Bursten said, is determined by requests from county prosecutors, district commanders and individual officer requests. Bursten said factors include availability of cameras, officer training and network capability for video upload.
No Indiana State Police troopers have body cameras, Bursten said.
Bursten said there is no plan to equip patrol cars or troopers with cameras “based on the present taxpayer financial impact.” Bursten said an in-car camera system would cost just over $5,000, not including “associated costs of installation, maintenance, secure storage cost of video and personnel staffing to process public record access requests.”
“That said, the Indiana State Police regularly monitors evolutions in this technology and advancements in storage of large quantities of data that may, in the future, permit the purchases and deployment of in-car systems,” Bursten said. He said that would go for body cameras, as well.
Would Rightsell’s death change that calculation at all?
“Use of recording systems is not an event-driven decision,” Bursten said.
IN OTHER POLICE DEPARTMENTS
Lafayette-area law enforcement officials contacted by the J&C weren’t interested in commenting about an ongoing Indiana State Police investigation into the actions of one of its own troopers. But the Indiana State Police is an outlier on video evidence equipment, at least in the home county of its Lafayette district.
Officials in police departments in Lafayette, West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County reported that their squad cars and their officers on the road were equipped with in-car and body cameras.
In Montgomery County, where Rightsell was shot, Sheriff Ryan Needham said four of his office’s 30 patrol cars – or 13 percent – had in-car cameras. Needham said 15 of the county’s 17 patrol deputies – or 88 percent – were equipped with body cameras.
Needham’s deputies were called to the scene on Dec. 28 as backup after Organ shot Rightsell and retreated to his patrol car, according to the Indiana State Police account. Of those deputies who arrived, Needham said, one had an in-car camera and another was wearing a body camera. Needham said video captured by Montgomery County deputies that night had been turned over to the Indiana State Police.
Video doesn’t come cheap. Here’s one local example.
In December, Tippecanoe County commissioners signed a five-year deal with Axon, a Scottsdale, Arizona, company, that had offered the sheriff’s office a one-year trial for its body camera and dash cam system in October 2017.
For 122 body cameras – covering all sworn deputies, jail officers, courthouse bailiffs and transport personnel in the sheriff’s office – the county will pay a total of $768,923 in over five years, according to figures from Lt. Steve Hartman. The contract also covered an additional $414,920 over the next five years for cameras in 43 of the department’s patrol cars.
The contract covers equipment, maintenance and video storage on Axon’s proprietary web-based system. Hartman said the department has had dash cams in its patrol cars “for quite some time now,” but 2017 marked the start for body cameras on Tippecanoe County’s officers. In the first 15 months, Hartman said, deputies recorded 134,000 videos of traffic stops, investigations and assorted interactions with the public.
“Why we like them is that you can sync them up to the second, so you can have different views of what an officer is seeing,” Hartman said. “If something did happen, you can bring up an officer’s dash cam and his body camera, put them up simultaneously.”
Commissioners winced at a price that salty for body camera technology that no department in the county had just five years ago. But Tracy Brown, who was Tippecanoe County sheriff for eight years before being elected commissioner in 2014, said the public had come to expect officers to have the equipment.
'GENERALLY, THE PUBLIC EXPECTS VIDEO FOOTAGE'
Brian Schaefer, an assistant professor in Indiana State University’s criminology and criminal justice department, studies law enforcement and camera technology.
“There is no concrete data to show what the public’s expectation is for video evidence,” Schaefer said. “Generally, the public expects video footage when the police use deadly force. Similarly, law enforcement wants all the evidence it can have when it comes to investigations, this includes use of force incidents.”
Schaefer said Bureau of Justice Statistics show that, in 2016, 69 percent of law enforcement agencies in the nation had dashboard cameras. But of the agencies reporting that they had dashboard cameras, Schaefer said, it wasn’t clear how many patrol cars in their fleets had them. The survey also didn’t break out Indiana’s statistics.
Schaefer said the same survey indicated 47 percent of 15,328 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. had adopted some level of body-worn camera use. The Bureau of Justice Statistics indicated that 119,399 body-worn cameras had been deployed in 2016. Schaefer said that works out to 29 body-worn cameras for every 100 full-time sworn officers.
For state agencies, the survey showed 26.5 percent had body cameras, and that seven of 100 sworn officers in state agencies had the equipment.
Schaefer warned that body cameras on police officers “should not be considered a panacea for understanding police-public interactions.”
“Camera distortion or a poor angle can be misleading,” Schaefer said. “Video footage requires perspective and interpretation to understand what occurred.”
That said, Schaefer mentioned how video evidence “increased transparency and accountability” for the public and for officers.
“There is a growing body of research that shows acquiring and using (body-worn cameras) are leading to positive outcomes, such as a reduction in officer use of force, reduction on assaults on officers, fewer complaints and increased evidentiary value in domestic violence cases,” Schaefer said.
'EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS KILLING IS QUESTIONABLE'
Bursten said he couldn’t comment on the investigation – and how video evidence might have sped Indiana State Police on the case – other than to say it “is ongoing and will continue to be ongoing for the foreseeable future.”
“Specific to body cameras, I would add that body cameras offer a perspective of just what is in front of the officer and fail to capture what is happening to either side of the officer, all of which would be in the officer’s field of vision,” Bursten said. “This compares to the in-car camera system presently being utilized that offers a front, rear and panoramic perspective that is most reflective of the type of law enforcement work performed by the majority of our officers.”
Mark Talbott, a Lafayette carpenter, knew Glenn Rightsell. They worked together on construction projects. They shared an interest in motorcycles.
Talbott said he couldn’t understand how Organ was back on duty – albeit desk duty, starting Jan. 7 – as the investigation goes on. Talbott questioned whether the Indiana State Police investigation was serious if “they have made a decision to allow the quick-draw rookie to come back to work.”
“I think if a dash camera or a body camera was being used, Glenn might still be alive,” Talbott said. “This guy didn’t have any accountability, and I think everything about this killing is questionable. If they don’t reprimand every officer involved in Glenn’s treatment after the shooting, something is wrong with the legal system.”
One thing for sure, at this point, as the investigation drags out, Indiana State Police has no video evidence of what happened as Trooper Organ approached Glenn Rightsell under the hood of a stranded SUV.
Indiana State Police has no intention, at this point, to have video evidence the next time.
ISP FATAL SHOOTING: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT THE CASE
Here are details about what happened Dec. 28 n U.S. 231 in northern Montgomery County, the night Glenn Rightsell died.
According to the initial Indiana State Police account, Trooper Daniel Organ earlier that day had tagged an abandoned 2007 Chevy Tahoe, left along the side of northbound U.S. 231, just south of North Montgomery High School and Montgomery County Road 550 North.
When Organ returned at 6:35 p.m. Friday, according to the ISP account, the trooper found the hood up on the Tahoe and Rightsell between the SUV and a white Dodge passenger car with its trunk open. According to ISP, the trooper noticed a gun at Rightsell’s waist as he pulled around the Tahoe and parked with his emergency lights and spotlight on to investigate why a second vehicle was there.
According to the ISP account, the trooper said Rightsell ignored “verbal commands” and that Rightsell “grabbed the gun on his waist.” That’s when, according to the ISP account, the trooper drew his sidearm and fired at Rightsell, hitting him at least once. The ISP account did not reveal how many shots were fired or where Rightsell had been hit. Family members report that Rightsell was hit in the face.
Riley said the trooper who fired his weapon retreated to his patrol car and waited for backup.
Matt Clark, Rightsell’s nephew, said his uncle on U.S. 231 to fix the Tahoe, which his daughter had left at the spot earlier in the day. Clark said family members believe Rightsell had called a police department to ask officers not to call a towing company until he’d had a chance to work on it. Clark also said Rightsell had a permit to carry a handgun and typically did.
Video shot by a neighbor minutes after Rightsell was shot shows the Linden man walking on his knees, his hands over his head, toward officers. In the video, police appear to ask Rightsell where his gun was. The video shows officers retrieving the gun, which appeared to still be at Rightsell’s waist. Once Rightsell was handcuffed, officers led him away from the scene on foot.
Police say Rightsell was taken by ambulance to Franciscan Health Crawfordsville hospital. He died at the hospital a few hours later.
Capt. David Bursten, chief public information officer for Indiana State Police, said once the investigation is done, Indiana State Police will file a report with Montgomery County Prosecutor Joseph Buser, who would decide whether charges are warranted.
Organ was on paid administrative leave until Jan. 7, when he returned to work in the Lafayette post. Bursten said Organ has been assigned to duties within in the post on Indiana 43 North, not on patrol.