The Journal Gazette
 
 
Monday, June 29, 2020 1:00 am

Protest held at Richards' door

Prosecutor speaks to concerns during hourlong talk

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Protesters gathered outside Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards' home Sunday, demanding she drop charges against participants of recent downtown demonstrations.

What they got was an hourlong exchange with Richards at the foot of her Forest Park Boulevard driveway under the supervision of two uniformed police officers. While some protesters thanked the prosecutor for her time as she retreated inside, the crowd's overall mood seemed unsatisfied.

“Thank you, Karen, for not caring,” protesters chanted from the grassy median.

The crowd began forming about 2 p.m. and grew to at least 60 people over the span of an hour. Several individuals brought signs bearing such messages as “Drop the charges!” and “Investigate FWPD/Stop Police Brutality.”

Ashlyn Weber of Fort Wayne said she participated on behalf of her cousin, a protester who was arrested while supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Her cousin faces charges of rioting, not leaving the scene of an emergency and disorderly conduct, she said.

Those charges are typical of those faced by the more than 100 protesters who have been arrested in connection with demonstrations that began May 29 in Fort Wayne. Most face misdemeanor charges including disorderly conduct, resisting law enforcement and refusing to leave an emergency incident area.

“They all need to be dropped,” Weber said.

The protests followed the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in Minneapolis police custody.

Demonstrators bombarded Richards with questions related to the local protests, and several said they were affected by tear gas police deployed at the initial rallies.

“How many police are in jail?” a protester called out.

Richards' back-and-forth with protesters was sometimes difficult to hear over the hum of a nearby police car's idling motor, chanting by protesters, protesters who talked over her, passing cars and protesters' interaction with a resident who was upset they migrated from the Allen County Courthouse Green to his neighborhood.

Protesters' questions were often repetitive. They wanted Richards to address specific arrests, the investigation into the police response to the demonstrations and, among other topics, a truck meet at Glenbrook Commons on Saturday night. Many were under the impression the latter event had political ties and were upset police didn't respond like they did to the late May protests.

The truck rally was apparently an impromptu, non-permitted event organized on Instagram. A Fort Wayne Police Department spokesman said Sunday the area was cleared without incident once police received authorization from property owners.

Richards preferred to stick to the protesters' core concerns – the criminal charges.

She reiterated what she told reporters at a mid-June news conference. Her office needs time to work through the thousands of hours of video before making decisions on whether to move forward with cases or dismiss charges, she said.

“It doesn't happen overnight,” Richards said, estimating it could take another three or four weeks.

Protesters expressed concern that Richards' team won't review videos taken by demonstrators, but Richards said her office is working on a way for the public to submit recordings.

“If it's new video footage, we will look at all of it,” said Richards, who was joined by Deputy Chief Prosecutor Mike McAlexander.

Richards also spent part of the hour explaining what her office does and doesn't do.

“I am not an investigatory agency. We do not investigate police,” she said after protesters asked about holding police accountable.

She corrected someone who claimed there isn't a system for punishing police.

“You do have a system,” Richards said. “It's internal affairs with the police department. ... You also have a civilian merit board that looks at the actions of the police, and that is their job.”

Some protesters seemed frustrated or unhappy when Richards would reply to questions by saying the topic fell under another agency's purview.

“Karen, your term is up,” one protester said after such a response.

“You're not listening to what we're saying or asking you,” another protester said. “You have this black and white paper, and you're reading a script in your head. ... That's what it sounds like.”

At one point, Richards was accused of being heartless.

“You know, if I didn't have a heart,” she said, “I wouldn't be standing out here talking to you.”

asloboda@jg.net


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