News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 26, 2011

MAUREEN HAYDEN: Devil is in the details, and those can sometimes be obscured

Maureen Hayden
Tribune-Star Statehouse Bureau

TERRE HAUTE — The Indiana Statehouse is often a contrast in images and a place where dissonance can sometimes rule the day.

That’s how it felt last week during a 24-hour period in which an abstract argument over a court ruling was followed by a reminder of a real-life tragedy.

Here’s how it unfolded: On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court reaffirmed an earlier ruling that said Indiana citizens don’t have a right to use violence against police officers to bar them from entering their home.

The ruling, in what’s become known as the Barnes case, set off a round of figurative fist-pounding from opponents. They swear the court is violating Indiana’s “castle doctrine” — the right to resist intruders, including police, from trespassing into one’s home — and they vow to find a legislative path to do an end-run around the ruling.

What seemed to get lost in the political debate were the details of what started the case: A southern Indiana man arrested on a battery charge after he shoved a police officer responding to a routine domestic violence call. The defendant argued he had a right to use force to keep the officer from coming into his home. The state’s highest court disagreed.

The day after that court ruling, I saw a 14-month-old boy playing just a few steps from the Statehouse, in the shadow of a memorial marker that bears the name of his slain father — a police officer shot after entering a home on a routine police matter.

That officer, Brent Long of the Terre Haute Police Department, was killed in July while serving an arrest warrant. He was one of three officers, slain in the last year, honored last Wednesday at a ceremony at the Indiana Law Enforcement and Firefighters Memorial.

All died while engaged in “routine‚” police work.

I asked police officials at the ceremony what they thought of the ruling in the Barnes’ case but few wanted to talk about it. The legal nuances of a court decision — even one involving the use of violence against a police officer — didn’t matter much that day. What they did say was that police work was getting scarier.

That sentiment is borne out by an unnerving trend. According the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, which tracks officer deaths, the number of law enforcement officers killed on duty is rapidly escalating.

I thought about Officer Long’s little boy as I left the memorial service and walked back to my office,  passing by the metal detectors and security guards posted at the Statehouse entrances to keep out guns and other weapons. Those measures were taken a few years ago, about the same time that bullet-proof glass was installed in the Senate and House chambers to keep legislators safe from violent-prone citizens.

Last session, those security measures weren’t enough; to fend off angry protesters who’d descended on the Statehouse, legislative leaders were escorted to and from the building by police officers. Depending on their destination, they likely passed by the memorial marker that now bears Brent Long’s name.

 

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com