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Protester from 2020 racial justice protests faces 5 years in prison

Some worry it is punitive punishment
Free Titan Kelly
Posted at 8:44 PM, Nov 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-05 20:44:18-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Titan Kelly was one of 28 people who were charged for crimes the Marion County Prosecutor's Office says happened during the 2020 racial justice protests that damaged property or endangered the welfare of others, including murder, armed robbery and burglary.

The prosecutor's office decided to not press charges against more than 100 others who participated in the protests.

Kelly is now in Marion County Jail II awaiting sentencing after they were convicted on two counts of battery against a public safety official, a Level 6 felony.

Authorities say Kelly threw a tear gas canister back at police after cops threw it into a crowd of protesters. Kelly faces up to five years in prison. Lafayette Slaydon, a close friend of Kelly's, said the conditions in the jail are dismal for them.

"Titan Kelly is still not receiving access to their life-saving medication they need in jail, and I believe still being held in solitary confinement for their safety as a trans person," Slaydon said.

She and others believe the court system is throwing the book at Kelly to make a point.

"This isn't just a court case, this isn't a just a number. This is somebody's life that's in direct danger," Slaydon said.

Jon Little, Kelly's attorney, told WRTV this conviction and the potential of serving five years in prison is extreme at best. At worst, Little said it shows how the criminal justice system unfairly punishes people.

"What's happened to Titan is not only did they have the audacity to throw the tear gas canister, allegedly, back at the police officers, they also had, and what's more troubling for our system, they had the audacity to ask for and receive a jury trial," Little said. "Titan could have plead on this case and had a misdemeanor after completing a year of non-reporting probation, which is the standard penalty for someone with virtually no record."

Little believes this case is an example of what many in the legal community refer to as a trial tax. That's when a judge imposes a more severe sentence on a defendant because the accused didn't accept a plea agreement, going to trial instead and using judicial and proprietorial resources.

WRTV asked Judge Clayton A. Graham, who presided over Kelly's case, if that's how this sentence and being remanded into custody until sentencing was decided.

"I am not allowed to comment on a pending case," Judge Graham said in an email. "The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from commenting on pending cases, so it would be inappropriate for me to address your specific question."

Kelly was released on their own recognizance back in 2020 and had been fully cooperating with the legal system according to Little. He said Kelly was not a flight risk and shouldn't be in jail awaiting sentencing.

On Thursday evening, a couple dozen protesters stood outside the Marion County Jail demanding Kelly be released. They are hopeful those in control of sentencing won't hand down the maximum of five years.

"Hopefully, the judge and prosecutors see that the only option is to give Titan a slap on the wrist, probation, certainly not DOC time," Slaydon said.

Along with the accusations of unfair punishment, the fact Kelly is transgender is also giving those who love and care about them some concern.

Data shows members of the LGBTQ+ community face higher rates of violence in correctional facilities. Because of that, many institutions throw their LGBTQ+ inmates into solitary confinement for what they say is their safety, but data shows it is also harmful.

Kit Malone with the Human Rights Campaign of Indiana said there's an easy way to avoid both of those traumatic experiences.

"If I were to ask officials one thing, it would be to consider where they're putting people, why they're putting people in certain populations, to stop using things like solitary confinement as a band-aid and to consider working with prisoners to determine where they would be safest housed," Malone said.

We asked the Marion County Sheriff's Office about the treatment Kelly is experiencing in jail. They have yet to respond to our questions.