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Marion Co. prosecutor discusses changes coming to how Indiana's red flag law works

Red flag law in spotlight after FedEx shooting
Posted at 5:00 AM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 07:30:40-04

INDIANAPOLIS — New changes are in the works for how the Marion County Prosecutor and IMPD will handle red flag cases following a deadly mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility last month.

In an exclusive interview with WRTV’s Rafael Sanchez, Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears to discuss those changes and what they will mean moving forward.

"The disconnect with the public is that idea that this red flag law is designed to prevent people from purchasing firearms — and that is not the case," Mears said.

Since the April 15 mass shooting many questions have been raised about how the state’s red flag law works and why it didn’t keep the shooter, Brandon Hole, from purchasing the weapons he would later use to kill eight people and injure five others at the FedEx facility.

The motive for the mass shooting is still unknown. The 19-year-old gunman also shot and killed himself with one of his two rifles — which were legally just months after he had a weapon seized under the state’s red flag law.

How the law works

In the past two years, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department has used the law nearly 200 times to take away more than 300 weapons. But not all cases make it to a judge — which is who would be able to make the decision on whether an individual should temporarily lose their weapon and ability to buy another gun.

Prosecutor Mears said the reason every case doesn’t go to the judge, is because that’s not how the law — as it currently stands — was meant to work.

READ | How Indiana's Jake Laird law works

“We’re trying to help people,” Mears said. “We’re trying to help people who are going through difficult situations. Who are going through a legitimate crisis.”

“If we create a process where you call us and you have to absolutely come to court and absolutely testify against that person, we will get fewer calls — which doesn’t benefit our community and results in our suicides going up,” Mears said.

READ | Why it's difficult to build a Red Flag law case

Right now, Mears said his office is not required to file red flag cases.

“It’s an opportunity for us to use our discretion and a lot of people have asked, ‘why not file all of them?’ The first thing people need to realize is that these red flag cases are people in need. It’s a parent calling about their child. It’s a spouse calling about their husband or wife, son or daughter.”

“What we discover is people become reluctant because they want to get that person help and not create an adversarial process to testify against them.”

Marion Co. Prosecutor Mears on filing red flag cases

Looking for answers

The Fraternal Order of Police has been vocally critical of the Prosecutor's office and its handling of the Brandon Hole case.

More than a year before the FedEx incident, in March 2020, Hole had a shotgun seized after his mother called police and expressed concerns with his mental health after she said he expressed a desire to be shot by police — also known as suicide by cop.

In that case, police say they didn’t file any paperwork with the court because the 19-year-old had agreed to give up his shotgun.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office then decided not to take the case to a judge, because at the time Hole had no record of violence.

Indy FOP President Rick Snyder said the prosecutor dropped the ball on the case and should have let a judge make the decision on Hole’s gun ownership rights.

“Nothing with the statute prohibits a continuance,” Snyder said. “(The statute) does not prohibit the prosecutor from supplementing the record … So again, we ask, ‘Why didn’t the prosecutor try?’ We call for answers, we call for accountability.”

Mears disagrees.

“There is no ball dropping,” Mears said. “When you get a case and you evaluate the facts as presented to you … there’s a decision based on information. In this particular case, we had that conversation about propensity. We had a single isolated incident. We also didn’t have any medication prescribed. There are a number of reasons that justify the decision that was made by the deputy prosecutor in this case.

“It wasn’t a failure. It was … we didn’t have the information at the time,” Mears continued. “But the other part is — they act like had a different decision been made the incident wouldn’t have happened. That’s incorrect and inaccurate. If you look at how easy it is to get a gun, it’s easier to get a gun than a coronavirus vaccine here in Marion County and that shouldn’t be the case.”

In response, Mears is calling on lawmakers to fix loopholes within the law — in particular, he believes people who have weapons seized during a mental crisis should not be able to buy a weapon at all until a judge rules on the case.

READ | Marion Co. prosecutor says Indiana's red flag law would not have stopped FedEx mass shooter

Changes are coming

The Marion County judge who oversees the filings of Red Flag cases set up a meeting with IMPD and the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office last week to discuss changes she wants to see made to the process for reporting those cases.

This includes orders to IMPD that their department is to file a report within two days of seizing a weapon to explain why it was seized under the Red Flag law. Those filings will go straight to the courts, not the prosecutor’s office.

After IMPD files that report, the judge will have 14 days to set up a hearing, which is required under state law.

Another change to the process includes a second deputy prosecutor reviewing and working on those red flag cases.

“The biggest thing you want is more eyes on particular cases like this,” Mears said. “You want to make sure you get a diversity of opinion. It’s not just one person always making the decision. That’s one change we’ve made internally to make sure that more than one person has an opportunity to review these so you are getting a second opinion in evaluating these cases.”

“By having a second view on this, it will lead to more thoughtful discussion and to make sure we’re tracking down all the issues that a case may present,”

Moving forward, the prosecutor says the judge has requested that no matter the circumstances, the filing for these cases is still expected within two days.

Red flag filing sot