Special prosecutor: No charges for Speedway officer in fatal shooting of fleeing man with mental illness

A Speedway police officer will not face criminal charges for the fatal shooting of a Black man with a mental illness who was fleeing law enforcement, a special prosecutor announced Thursday.

Officer Robby Harris will not be charged in the death of 28-year-old De’Aire Gray, who was shot Feb. 12 and died Feb. 21. Former Monroe County Prosecutor Christopher Gaal, who was appointed special prosecutor in this case, filed a report Thursday finding Harris was justified in using deadly force as self-defense during the February encounter.

Harris, a 21-year veteran of the Speedway force, fired four shots, striking Gray in the abdomen, right buttock and right upper arm. The officer opened fire after seeing “what appear(ed) to be a black pistol” in Gray’s hand. The weapon was later determined to be a BB gun.

Prior to the shooting, Harris had gone to an apartment complex on West 25th Street in Speedway following a report of a man sleeping in his vehicle and defecating in the complex’s parking lot next to his vehicle. Harris and Officer Scott Highland saw a man, later identified as Gray, open the door to the vehicle, so the officers began approaching him.

Harris observed Gray wearing a blinking GPS ankle monitor. Gray had been charged in December 2019 with 17 felony counts of arson, so he was under GPS monitoring.

As the officers approached him, Gray jumped a fence and began to run. Highland pursued him on foot until he dropped his Taser, at which point Officer Madeline O’Day continued the foot pursuit and Harris drove to the area in his police vehicle.

According to Gaal’s report, O’Day was the first officer to see the gun in Gray’s hands, which she saw him pull out of a duffle bag he had been carrying. O’Day alerted Harris to the gun multiple times, and Harris ordered him to drop it.

“Harris stated that as the subject was crossing the street in front of his car the muzzle of the gun was pointed at Harris. Harris stated that he was then in fear for his life, and fired four shots to neutralize the threat,” according to the report.

Gray fell to the ground and told officers he was in pain, was bleeding and believed his arm was broken. The gun had fallen between his legs, and Harris kicked it away.

Gray was transported to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis. Doctors were not able to resuscitate him.

Gray’s mother, Tanya Atkins, told investigators that her son had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had not been taking his prescribed medication for about five years. A psychiatrist who had evaluated Gray as part of the arson case — for which Gray had been found not competent to stand trial — confirmed Gray experienced auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, disorganized thinking and behavior, and “negative symptoms” dating back to 2014.

Gaal’s report concluded the BB gun “visually appeared indistinguishable from an actual handgun.” Harris, the prosecutor said, “had a reasonable belief that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to himself, and such belief was reasonable under the circumstances.”

Harris’ lawyer, John F. Kautzman of Ruckelshaus Kautzman Blackwell in Indianapolis, released a statement Thursday commending the report.

“The evidence clearly demonstrated that (Harris) took actions consistent with his training and the law,” Kautzman said in the statement. “Officer Harris now looks forward to returning to his duties and continuing to serve the residents of Speedway.”

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