Indianapolis man alleges van ride to jail left him paralyzed

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An Indianapolis man who says he was paralyzed while being taken to jail in 2019 has filed a federal lawsuit alleging officers threw him head-first into the back of a van that had no safety restraints.

The lawsuit, announced Monday, alleges that by the time the van arrived at the jail 20 minutes later, Travis Shinneman could not support his body weight. The 49-year-old remains paralyzed from the neck down and requires around-the-clock care, his attorneys said.

The case is reminiscent of that of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man, who died in 2015 after his neck was broken while he was handcuffed and shackled in a Baltimore police van.

Shinneman, who is white, was arrested by Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers in September 2019 for disorderly conduct and public intoxication, according to court documents. Police then handed him over to officers with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to take him to jail.

He was the only passenger in the back of the van and there were no cameras to monitor him, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit names the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and some of its employees, as well as Indianapolis police officers and some city officials.

The sheriff’s department issued a statement Monday saying that it does not comment on pending litigation but that “there are two sides to every story, and that ultimately it will be a judge and jury that will likely resolve the litigation.”

The lawsuit states that when the van arrived at the jail, Shinneman was lying face down on the floorboard with his head at the tailgate doors. He was then “forcibly removed” by several deputies and put into a wheelchair, according to the lawsuit.

Shinneman’s lawyers released security camera footage that they argue shows some Marion County Jail employees “manhandled” him, furthering his injuries. Other employees mocked him for his condition or “simply ignored” him, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Sunday.

The lawyers also say an onsite nurse observed Shinneman only from a distance before refusing to accept him because she believed he merely was intoxicated.

Shinneman eventually was carried out of the intake area in what his attorneys described as “a hog-tied manner and taken to Eskenazi Hospital. There, he was diagnosed with a fractured and dislocated spinal cord, resulting in paralysis.

Shinneman now lives in a nursing home, his attorneys said. His legal team is seeking “accountability among public and law enforcement officials,” as well as damages.

“This is a disturbing case because it could literally happen to anyone,” said Jennifer Culotta, one of Shinneman’s attorneys. “It is shocking that in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, that the Marion County Jail transport vans were not equipped with safety belts, cameras to monitor transports, or security measures to ensure that transports are not thrown around the back of a transport van like a pinball in a machine.”

The case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana is Travis Chinneman v. Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council, et al., 1:21-cv-02203.

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