People v. State

fairly undermining public confidence in the administration of justice

To The Indianapolis Star, Elie Mystal, and Shaun King, re: disparity between criminal justice system’s treatment of blacks and whites who claim self-defense

September 04, 2017 By: John Kindley Category: Uncategorized

Copied and pasted below is an email I sent on July 25, 2017 to a reporter at The Indianapolis Star, and forwarded on July 27, 2017 to Elie Mystal at Above the Law and Shaun King at the New York Daily News. I received no response from any of them:

‘Mr. Ryckaert:

I’m writing in reference to an article you wrote that was published on July 20th, with the headline “Wounded neighbor charged in Johnson County shootout.” This story, and the earlier story saying the prosecutor would not be charging the fireman who shot the man who was ultimately charged, with the accompanying video, caught my attention because of both its similarities to and its stark contrast with a criminal case out of Elkhart County I was involved with some years ago. That Elkhart County criminal case, which also involved a shootout that was caught on tape and a claim of self-defense, has also been on my mind a lot in the last few years, in large part because of its similarities to, and its stark contrast with, the rash of police shootings of young black men that have been in the news so much during this period of time. The case of Tamir Rice, whose shooting by a Cleveland police office was also caught on tape, was particularly troubling, especially when compared and contrasted to the Elkhart County case I’m referring to. In the Tamir Rice case, the prosecutor thought the evidence that the police officer reasonably feared for his life (the basic standard for self-defense) was so clear that he declined to even prosecute (even though Tamir Rice was only 12 years old and the “gun” he was playing with in the park was a toy). Same with the Johnson County shooting that you wrote about. But in the Elkhart County case, not only did the State decide to prosecute my client, Tyrus Coleman, but he was convicted by a jury of attempted murder and sentenced by the judge to an aggravated sentence of 45 years in prison in 2009, where he remains to this day. The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned his conviction on Double Jeopardy grounds (decision here), but the Indiana Supreme Court reinstated it (decision here). His case is now pending in federal district court on his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

As I said, the shootout in Tyrus Coleman’s case was also caught on tape. The tape is attached. The most relevant part of the confrontation begins at about the 03:35:00 PM mark, when a man named Anthony Dye comes around the corner and into the backyard of Coleman’s property holding a gun in his hand. Like Weigle in the Johnson County case, Dye is holding the gun down by his side. Unlike Weigle, who was moving backwards from Keller on his lawn mower, Dye was rapidly moving toward Coleman. Unlike Keller, who apparently had his whole yard to move around in and if necessary retreat in, Coleman has his back against the wall of his garage studio, inside of which his young son was ensconced for his safety.

I do not take issue with the Johnson County prosecutor’s decision not to charge Keller. But the disparity between how Keller was treated and how Coleman was treated by the criminal justice system is shocking and disheartening to me. Objectively speaking, the threat to his life faced by Coleman was far greater than that faced by Keller or by the police officer who shot Tamir Rice. And yet Coleman was charged and convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison, while these other two weren’t even charged. Given this stark disparity in treatment between these three cases, I cannot help but observe that Coleman is black, and that the jury that convicted him in Elkhart County was all white. I just cannot help but suspect that when white people see a video of a black man defending his life with a gun, they see and feel something very different than they do when they see a white person doing the same thing.

But see for yourself. Please take a look at the attached video, and try to view it in light of the video of the Johnson County shooting and in light of the video of the Tamir Rice shooting, and in light of how all three of these cases were respectively resolved. ​

John A. Kindley
Attorney at Law’

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