IMPD officer recorded punching teen faces criminal charges

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An Indianapolis police officer that punched a 17-year-old outside an Indianapolis high school last month now faces criminal charges.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announced Monday that Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Robert Lawson has been charged with Class A misdemeanor battery after allegedly striking a teen without a legitimate concern for self-defense.

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry announces charges against IMPD Officer Robert Lawson on Sept. 16.

Additional charges were filed against Lawson stemming from his alleged false statements regarding the incident, including felony charges obstruction of justice, perjury and official misconduct, as well as a charge of Class B misdemeanor false informing.

Lawson is accused of making false statements under oath or affirmation in police reports and a probable cause affidavit submitted in support of arrest of the teen, Curry said. The juvenile was not taken into custody and no delinquency action has been filed against him in the matter.

Official documents written and signed by Lawson state that he and another officer were dispatched to Shortridge High School to assist Indianapolis Public Schools police with a large school fight in which the 17-year-old was involved, according to a probable cause affidavit. As the teen was escorted off school property into the custody of his aunt, the officer’s police report states Lawson threw an open hand palm strike at the teen in fear that the boy was about to hit him.

Lawson allegedly reported that the palm strike was successful, and officers were able to cuff the 17-year-old without any further force. However, video taken of the Aug. 29 altercation by a third party at the scene shows Lawson striking the boy with a closed fist and continuing to use force, including a knee strike to the teen’s abdomen or chest.

Before the punch, a video shows the teen approach and stand in front of Lawson with both hands to his sides. Investigators later observed that the boy was standing with open hands, rather than closed fists as Lawson had described in his report.

Charging documents also show that Lawson reported that another officer present during the incident stated she observed the 17-year-old swing his fist at Lawson a split second before Lawson threw the palm strike. But in an interview with investigators, that officer denied making any such statement.

Prosecutor’s Office Chief Trial Deputy Ryan Mears said Monday that video evidence and witness statements directly contradicted with Lawson’s version of the facts alleged in his report.

“We are hopeful that this sends a strong message to the community that we take these allegations very seriously and that these matters will be thoroughly investigated and that it does not matter to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office who is the defendant or who is the victim,” Mears said.

Arrangements have been made for Lawson to turn himself in Monday, Curry said. The officer has been suspended without pay, according to IMPD.

Meanwhile, the teen’s family is suing Lawson, alleging that his actions and those of two officers employed by IPS violated the juvenile’s civil rights.  None of the other officers present at the scene are facing charges, Mears said.

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